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Philippines invests to protect South China Sea
by Staff Writers
Manila (AFP) Sept 7, 2011

The Philippines on Wednesday announced another military spending spree to defend its South China Sea territories, with a key goal of protecting its largest natural gas project against Chinese claims.

Nearly five billion pesos ($118 million) will be spent on top of this year's defence budget to buy a navy patrol vessel and six helicopters as well as various military supplies, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said.

"The 4.95 billion pesos will fund necessary capability requirements of (armed forces) in its territorial defence operations, including providing a strong security perimeter for the Malampaya Natural Gas and Power Project," he said.

The $4.5 billion Malampaya project, operated as a joint venture with Shell Philippines, is the biggest gas extraction operation in the country and supplies nearly half of the energy needed on the main island of Luzon.

Malampaya lies 80 kilometres (50 miles) off the coast of the southwestern Philippine island of Palawan, but the area of the South China Sea is also claimed by China.

Other parts of the South China Sea are claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam, besides the Philippines and China, and the area has for decades been considered one of Asia's potential military flashpoints.

Tensions spiked again this year after the Philippines and Vietnam said that China had become increasingly aggressive in staking its claims to the area, which is believed to hold vast deposits of oil and gas.

The Philippines accused Chinese troops of firing warning shots against Filipino fishermen, laying buoys and markers in its territory and harassing a Philippine-sanctioned oil exploration vessel.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino and his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao committed to solve the dispute peacefully when the Filipino leader visited Beijing last week.

But the Philippines has also insisted it will not back down against Chinese aggression.

While the new spending announced on Wednesday is miniscule compared with China's military budget, it is significant for the cash-strapped Philippine defence forces and comes on top of other upgrades this year.

The Philippines last month took delivery of a coast guard ship to be used to patrol waters within its 200-nautical-mile economic exclusion zone that are also coveted by China, such as the Malampaya area.

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