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AFP to go ‘hand-to-hand’ to defend Spratlys--Esperon

March 17, 2008 16:39:00
Joel Guinto
INQUIRER.net

CAMP JOHN HAY, Baguio City -- The military is "ready to go to war anytime" to defend the country's claim on the disputed Spratly Islands despite limited firepower, with troops ready to do "hand-to-hand" combat, Armed Forces chief General Hermogenes Esperon Jr.

While the Constitution deplores war, Esperon said security forces would not hesitate to "defend our territory" when all diplomatic efforts at peaceful resolution fail.

"While your soldiers are ready to go to war anytime, as in other wars, there are of course efforts to settle the differences through diplomatic channels," Esperon told reporters here.

"We can go to war, we can still go to war. But the next question is, can we win? That's the question, do we have the capabilities?" he said.

Esperon acknowledged that defending the Spratlys would require fighter aircraft, which the Philippine Air Force (PAF) does not have. The PAF decommissioned the last of its F5 jets several years back.

Asked about the military's limited hardware, Esperon said: "Yun lang ang nakayanan [That's all we've got]. If it will be down to hand-to-hand combat, why not?"

"We may not have the chance, but that does not mean that soldiers are not willing to fight for the country," he said.

Around 60 soldiers are posted on eight islands in the reportedly oil-rich Spratlys, which the Philippines calls the Kalayaan Group of Islands.

The Spratlys are being claimed in part or in whole by China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan.

A joint undertaking for seismic research by the Philippines, China and Malaysia drew controversy recently amid claims that the deal weakened the country's claim on the Spratlys, in favor of China, allegedly in exchange for a multi-million-dollar loan package.

Last week, the vice commander of the Philippine Navy, Amable Tolentino, said that diplomacy was the way to go in the Spratlys since the Philippines could not go to war.

Esperon said Tolentino was expressing a "personal opinion."

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