Philippine President OKs fighter jets order amid growing tensions with China

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Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr has given the go-ahead for the government to purchase multirole fighter jets amid escalating territorial tensions with China.

The president’s decision was announced by General Romeo Brawner Jr, the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), during a media briefing with local press on July 4, 2024.

The Philippines and Sweden signed an agreement in May 2024 to support the acquisition of multi-role fighter (MRF) aircraft for the Philippine Air Force (PAF).

However, the type of fighter jet and how many the country will acquire has not yet been specified.

The Swedish-made Saab JAS-39 Gripen fighter jet is one of the two jet fighters identified by the PAF for its MRF acquisition project, alongside Lockheed Martin’s F-16 from the United States.

Brawner, Jr said the Philippines’ current FA-50 jet fighters are capable but not adequate enough to defend the country, adding that multirole fighters are “bigger, faster and more lethal” than the FA-50PH currently operated by the country. 

Although he did not specify China, Brawner, Jr said the multirole fighter jets are needed to defend the Philippines against its “adversaries, especially those outside the country”.

Tensions between China and the Philippines have escalated in recent months over maritime and territorial disputes in the West Philippine Sea, which China claims to be part of the South China Sea.

Image: Department of Foreign Affairs, Philippines

In June 2023, Chinese coast guards were seen clashing with Philippine vessels, with the Philippine government claiming that the Chinese coast guards “hijacked” a humanitarian rotation and resupply mission at the Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal.

On July 3, 2024, China anchored a 12,000-ton Coast Guard Ship inside the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which the Philippine Navy has been monitoring.

“They are authorized under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) either through freedom of navigation or right of innocent passage. Rest assured the Philippine Navy and the Armed Forces will continue monitoring the vast expanse of our maritime domain,” a spokesperson for the  Philippine Navy told local news. 

A predominantly Catholic country, the Philippines has been turning to religion while waiting for adequate military equipment such as fighter jets. 

A commander of the Philippine Coast Guard Ecumenical Chaplain Service told local media that a replica of the statue of the Virgin Mary referred to as “Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage”, will be toured around headquarters and stations of the Philippine Coast Guard around the country until it reaches a chapel being built on Pag-asa Island in the West Philippine Sea, where it will be permanently installed.

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