[PHOTO AT LEFT - All eyes are on President Arroyo as she arrives for the 60th anniversary rites of the Philippine Air Force at Villamor Air Base yesterday. - Photo By RUDY SANTOS]

MANILA, JULY 4, 2007 (STAR) President Arroyo vowed yesterday to crush terror cells in the country using the Human Security Act or the anti-terrorism law which is expected to be enforced on July 15 even as officials gave assurance that it will not be abused.

In her speech on the 60th anniversary celebration of the Air Force at the Villamor Air Base in Pasay City, Mrs. Arroyo said the anti-terrorism law or Republic Act 9372 would boost the fight against terror in the Southeast Asian region.

“The Human Security Act signed last March, which shall take effect on July 15, shall be the basis of more effective anti-terrorism measures that will not only crush the terrorist movement in the country, but also keep it away from our shores and make us more effective in fighting terrorism together with our Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) brothers,” she said.

Among the guests who attended the event were Air Force chiefs of Asean states, including Brig. Gen. Dato Paduka Mahmud from Brunei, Lt. Gen. Soeung Samnang from Cambodia, Air Chief Marshal Herman Prayitno from Indonesia, Col. Khamphone Sivixay from Laos, Gen. Dato Azizan Bin Ariffin from Malaysia, Gen. Myat Hein from Myanmar, Maj. Gen. Ng Chee Khern from Singapore, Air Chief Marshal Chalit Pakbhasuk from Thailand, and Maj. Gen. Le Huu Duc from Vietnam.

Mrs. Arroyo noted that the country is in “a period of bold transition in the Armed Forces.”

“In the next three years, we shall deal a strategic defeat to the insurgency, modernize the military in its twin roles of defense and development, advance the protection of human rights, force terrorism back and build peace in Mindanao, and expand our alliances for regional and global security,” she said. – Paolo Romero

GMA approves purchase of new Air Force helicopters By Paolo Romero Wednesday, July 4, 2007

President Arroyo ordered yesterday the Armed Forces to start the bidding process for the purchase of brand new helicopters for the Air Force to enhance the government’s capability to address security threats and respond to emergencies.

“And I hope that our young men and women in the Air Force will feel safer and braver when they fly these brand new helicopters,” she said.

In her speech at the 60th founding anniversary celebration of the Philippine Air Force at the PAF headquarters at the Villamor Air Base in Pasay City, Mrs. Arroyo said the government, since 2001 has made significant moves to improve the military’s air assets but these were mainly on refurbishing and acquiring second-hand aircraft from foreign allies.

“But all these refurbishing and all these goodwill that we are able to mobilize in order to expand our fleet, still left me quite uncomfortable,” Mrs. Arroyo said. “So, I instructed (Armed Forces chief Gen. Hermogenes) Esperon and (Air Force chief) Lt. Gen. (Horacio) Tolentino that before we buy more second-hand helicopters or almost first-hand helicopters, I want to see a bidding for first-hand helicopters.”

She pointed out that part of the P17.5 billion the government allocated in the last two years for the Armed Forces’ modernization, P5 billion was for the acquisition of new helicopters.

Mrs. Arroyo said the Philippine Defense Reform Program “continues to move forward under the teamwork of our major services and the leading beacon of the defense department.”

She said the first phase of the PAF modernization program began in 2001 when she requested US President George W. Bush during a state visit to Washington for more military aid.

She said the US government initially wanted to limit its assistance to providing spare parts and maintaining existing helicopters but she insisted that Washington provide a squadron so the visit resulted in the acquisition of 20 used UH-1H or “Huey” choppers.

Part of the Arroyo administration’s AFP modernization program was the service life extension of OV-10 planes. She thanked Thailand for providing 10 OV-10 aircraft for the PAF in the last few years.

Last month, Mrs. Arroyo ordered the release of P5 billion to fund the purchase of new helicopters for the Armed Forces for use in counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency as well as anti-crime operations and disaster response.

Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya said the purchase of the new helicopters would be done through an open bidding, which includes the use of the government’s E-Procurement System, to ensure transparency. The Armed Forces is considered to be the most ill-equipped military in the region and is plagued by massive corruption and adventurism.

Andaya added that specifications for the new helicopters will be announced in advertisements calling for bids.

At present, the Air Force has some 40 Hueys in its inventory but many are grounded due to repairs. The helicopters are being used for troop transport or insertion to battlefields, close air support in combat, medical evacuation, search and rescue and transport of VIPs.

Responding to criticisms that she has been militarizing the government, Mrs. Arroyo said: “What we have allocated for Air Force modernization is much less than what we have allocated for agricultural modernization in these last two years of almost P30 billion.” – With Michael Punongbayan

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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