PH to lease aircraft, acquire patrol vessels from Japan

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — The Philippines will soon lease five trainer aircraft from Japan after the two countries signed an agreement during President Rodrigo Duterte's state visit to Japan.

Defense Undersecretary Raymundo Elefante on Wednesday signed the Memorandum of Implementation and Letter of Arrangement for the transfer of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF)'s Beechcraft TC-90 aircraft. His counterpart, Commissioner Hideaki Watanabe signed it for Japan.

The Philippines will lease four TC-90 light propeller planes for $7,000 (around ₱339,000) each per year, Elefante told CNN Philippines in a phone interview. The remaining TC-90 will be leased for $200 (around ₱9,700) per year.

He said these were meant for "disaster and relief operations."

Former President Benigno Aquino III first confirmed the lease of trainer aircrafts last March to help patrol the Philippines' territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Elefante said it was the Japanese government that offered help.

Elefante said the Duterte administration jumped at the opportunity when they saw the pending arrangement. 

"Pinaspasan namin, tinutukan namin kasi favorable sa country natin eh [We pursued it, focused on it because it is favorable for our country]," he said.

It went through an elaborate process, he added.

He said Japan also agreed to give the aircraft to the Philippines for free once it has amended its Public Finance Act, which prohibits the donation of national property to foreign countries.

Japan also offered free training for the pilots who will operate the aircraft. This usually costs around ₱2 million for up to 200 hours of training, Elefante said.

The aircraft are expected to be turned over to the Philippines by the first quarter of 2017.

Officials also signed Exchange of Notes on Japanese Official Development Assistance (ODA) Loan to acquire two large-scale patrol vessels for the Philippines.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also expressed Japan's intention to provide high-speed boats and other equipment to enhance the Philippines' anti-terrorism capabilities.

Political Analyst Richard Heydarian told CNN Philippines Thursday that Japan is the "external power" that Duterte sought to help the Philippines.

Maritime security

Abe and Duterte welcomed the signing of the documents.

"Both Japan and the Philippines are maritime nations and support to enhance maritime safety capability will be strengthened," Abe said in his joint statement with Duterte.

Duterte, meanwhile, was all praises for Japan's development assistance to the Philippines.

"The Philippines will continue to work closely with Japan on issues of common concern in the region and uphold the shared values of democracy, adherence to the rule of law and the peaceful settlement of disputes, including the South China Sea."

Abe praised Duterte's efforts to improve the bilateral relationship with China. He reiterated that issues should be addressed without threat or force.