MANILA, Philippines — Senator Panfilo Lacson on Thursday said he moved to augment the 2022 budget by nearly P300 million for the enhancement of the country’s defense posture and research facilities in Pag-asa Island in Kalayaan, Palawan in the West Philippine Sea.
Lacson, who chairs the Senate national defense committee and recently visited Pag-asa Island, said he proposed an additional P254.241 million under the budget of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to fund the enhancement of the facilities in the area.
“Pag may nakitang problema o kakulangan sinusundan natin ng aksyon. Hindi pangako lang, talagang gagawan namin ng paraan ni Senate President Vicente Sotto III,” Lacson said during an online media forum.
(If Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III and I see a problem, we just don’t make promises. We follow it up with action.)
Lacson and Sotto are running as a tandem for the presidential and vice presidential race, respectively, in next year’s polls.
The Senate has recently completed plenary deliberations on the proposed 2022 national budget, opening it senators to propose changes in the spending bill.
Part of Lacson’s proposed P254-million augmentation includes P5.393 million for the procurement of power system requirements; P15.351 million for the procurement of rubber boats with outboard motors; and P233.497 million for the procurement of communication and other mission-essential equipment for Kalayaan Island Group detachments.
Aside from this, Lacson said he also proposed an additional P38.509 million for the Pagasa Island Research Station.
This proposed funding includes P10 million for a two-storey dormitory building or marine facility and P28.509 million to purchase marine scientific and oceanographic equipment.
BR Sierra Madre
Meanwhile, Lacson rejected the demand of the Chinese government for the removal of BRP Sierra Madre from Ayungin Shoal.
Instead, he said the grounded vessel serving as an outpost of the Philippine Navy in the West Philippine Sea, should be refurbished and reinforced.
“Dapat huwag natin bayaang iusog… Kung kakayanin lagay tayo ng isang barko doon na functioning,” Lacson said.
(We should not allow it to be moved. And if possible, we should even reinforce it with another vessel that is functioning.)
He added that he is eyeing a Senate resolution to “express the sense of the Senate” to condemn the recent actions taken by China in the West Philippine Sea.
Lacson also backed a bill filed by his running mate seeking the creation of a map of the Philippines’ maritime areas—similar to China’s nine-dash line—which will define the maritime zones under the country’s jurisdiction.
“Kailangan may municipal law para klaro, parang nine-dash line na sinasabi ng China, para ma-reinforce ang ating sinasabing pag-aari sa WPS,” Lacson said.
(We need a municipal law similar to China’s nine-dash line, to reinforce our rights in the WPS.)
The senator likewise reiterated his stance to maintain a balance of power in the region while the Philippines works to attain a minimum credible defense posture.
He said this entails accelerating the AFP modernization. However, Lacson pointed out that the country is “spending less than one percent” of its budget for this while its neighbors spend more than two percent of their budgets.
Nevertheless, he said the Philippines should still maintain trade relations with China even as Manila continues to assert its sovereignty and sovereign rights.
“Mas maganda trade relations with China maintain natin pero assert natin ang sovereignty and sovereign rights over the EEZ (exclusive economic zone) at ang ibang sovereignty natin ang nakataya,” he added.
(It is better to maintain trade relations with China but assert our sovereignty and sovereign rights over the EEZ.)
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