THE Senate will provide a budget for the establishment of new facilities at the Ayungin Shoal and Kalayaan Island, Sen. Francis Joseph “Chiz” Escudero said Tuesday.
He said that the allotment of funds to enhance the country’s frontline posts in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) is a “done deal” in the Senate.
The senator made the assurance as the Senate is set to start debates on the 2024 national budget this week.
In a statement, Escudero said his fellow senators are unanimous in allocating funds to build structures “meant not for aggression but for the welfare of our soldiers stationed there.” The WPS is a “hot spot,” he pointed out. “Unless you’ve been living under the rock, you cannot miss what’s happening there,” he added. The fund augmentation will be used to improve the Rancudo Airfield and the Liwanag Naval Station on the island. Escudero said he will also insist that the infrastructure budget for the 37-hectare Kalayaan Island, which hosts air and naval stations, should be increased.
He wondered why the executive department only allotted P80 million in the 2024 national budget for two small projects on Kalayaan Island.
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“They should back up their rhetoric with resources. Anger is good but appropriations are better,” Escudero said.
He was referring to the proposed two-story military barracks and an igloo-type ammunition storage each costing P40 million and lodged under the budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).
In August, Escudero proposed the construction of a floating wharf at Ayungin Shoal that will also serve “as a bad weather refuge for vessels regardless of the flag they are carrying.” He recommended an initial P100 million for the project, to be booked under the Department of Transportation or the DPWH “to underscore its peaceful purpose.” Escudero noted that other senators suggested a bigger appropriation, such as the P1 billion proposed by Sen. Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, chairman of the Senate Committee on National Defense and Security. He said that Senate President Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri had also backed his proposal. “I would now hold them to their assurance, and the best proof would be in the 2024 appropriations bill,” Escudero said.
Meanwhile, the House Special Committee on the West Philippine Sea on Tuesday held a hearing on the collision of China Coast Guard vessels and a vessel contracted by the Armed Forces of the Philippines last October.
Rep. Neptali Gonzales 2nd, head of the panel, said the hearing will ensure that “we address the challenges head-on and work toward a peaceful, cooperative future in the West Philippine Sea.” “Tensions are high, and it comes when we are experiencing numerous simultaneous conflicts around the world. The frequent incidents prompted by Chinese vessels in the WPS is a serious cause for concern,” Gonzales added.
Resource persons from the National Task Force on the West Philippine Sea led by its spokesman, Coast Guard Commo. Jay Tristan Tarriela, detailed the ramming incident to the panel.
Defense Undersecretary for Strategic Assessment and Planning Ignacio Madriaga said that the government has “plans” to further protect Philippine vessels from Chinese vessels in subsequent resupply missions.
“The National Task Force is continuously planning, meeting, scenario-building, war games in the conduct of our operations and their sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea,” Madriaga added.
Tarriela said that the decision of the House of Representatives to realign the confidential funds under the proposed P5.768-trillion general appropriations bill of 2024 will have a “tremendous impact” on security agencies’ capability to defend the country’s interest in the West Philippine Sea.