Subic base renovation stepped up
The Aquino administration is rushing to finish the renovation of an air base in Subic Bay ahead of the spending ban that will be enforced two months before the May 2016 elections.
“The government is aware of the importance of the improvements being made on the facilities in Subic Bay airfield,” Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said over the state-run radio station dzRB.
“The Department of National Defense is coordinating with the Department of Budget and Management [regarding the budget] in order to ensure that renovations made in the Subic Bay air base will be finished within schedule,” Coloma also said.
Renovating the Subic Bay air base will enable Philippine fighter jets to respond quickly to any aggression in the disputed South China Sea, military sources said.
New fighter jets and two frigates are to be stationed at the former US naval facility in Subic Bay, the first time the massive installation will have functioned as a military base in 23 years.
Subic Bay’s deep-water harbor lies on the western side of the main Philippine island of Luzon, opposite the South China Sea, and is about 130 nautical miles (240 km) from Scarborough Shoal, a rocky outcrop China seized control of in 2012.
China has built seven artificial islands on submerged shoals and outcrops in the area, which it says is part of its territory, and is believed to be constructing three airfields there.
Robert Garcia, chairman of Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority, which is overseeing the conversion of the industrial and commercial complex, said the military had to move quickly to repair the base’s airfield because a pre-election ban on military spending takes effect in March.
The Philippines holds national elections in May.
Garcia, in airing his concern, said if the military does not get funding for the repairs, the air and naval bases may be delayed.
Garcia said that South Korea was due to deliver the first two fighters in early December.
An air force general said the government had yet to respond to a request for 100 million pesos ($2.14 million) to refurbish Subic’s airfield.
The Philippine Air Force has been allocated about 10 percent of the 200-hectare airport facilities to house a squadron of 12 FA50 light fighters for maritime security missions.
Once one of the biggest U.S. naval facilities in the world, Subic was shut down in 1992 after the end of the Cold War.
“With the situation in the South China Sea right now, it looks like the presence of foreign troops will increase in coming months,” Garcia said.
He said that approval by the Supreme Court of a new military pact with the United States would change the situation.