MANILA, Philippines — Philippine President Benigno Aquino promised Monday that 83.9 billion pesos ($1.77 billion) allocated for military modernization projects would be spent by 2017 as the country faces a territorial dispute with China.
Speaking at a ceremony to mark the 80th anniversary of the armed forces, Aquino said his administration had already spent 56.79 billion pesos of the total scheduled for full disbursement by 2017 on "big-ticket" modernization programs.
This was more than the sum spent by the three previous administrations, said Aquino, who took office in 2010 and leaves office next year, as he bemoaned the lack of proper equipment that had long hampered the military.
"Back then, because of lack of equipment, there was a soldier in a sensitive operation carrying a purple backpack from a fast food chain. I just don't think a purple backpack is suited for an operation in the jungle," he told assembled soldiers.
The president cited the new equipment purchased in recent years including FA-50 jets, the country's first supersonic fighter aircraft for a decade.
Two of the 12 South Korean-made jets have been delivered and Aquino said the rest would reach the country before the end of 2017.
Philippine honor guards march during the Armed Forces of the Philippines 80th anniversary celebration on Dec. 21 at Haribon Hangar, Air Force City, Clark Air Base.
Photo Credit: Noel Celis/AFP via Getty Images
He praised the military for performing difficult duties, singling out the Marines manning an outpost in the South China Sea to defend the Philippines' claims there.
Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan also have partial claims but China asserts rights over almost all of the South China Sea. It has been accused of taking aggressive actions to stake its claim, such as converting tiny outcrops or reefs into islands that can house military facilities.
The Philippines has been the most vocal in opposing China's claims despite having one of the region's weakest militaries.
As ties with China have soured, Aquino has stepped up efforts to strengthen the country's defenses, by acquiring new weapons and improving defense ties with allies like the United States and Japan.