High fuel prices and an escalation of violence on a southern island has forced the Philippines’ tiny air force to cut back on maritime patrols over its vast borders, according to a military report seen by Reuters on Wednesday.
The Philippines has about half a dozen Italian-made S-211 trainer jets on regular patrol over the country’s maritime borders, including the oil and gas-rich region near the western island of Palawan.
The rest of its fleet — helicopters and OV-10 Broncos — are not suitable for the job. It also has one C-130 Hercules transporter in flying condition.
Soaring prices of fuel in the first half of 2008 cut the military’s petroleum, oil and lubricants supply by about 18 percent, “grossly” affecting its air defense and maritime surveillance and disaster response operations, the document said.
The S-211 aircraft were expected to fly fewer air defense and maritime surveillance missions in the second half of the year due to fighting with Muslim rebels on the troubled southern island of Mindanao, a senior defense official told Reuters.
He said the reduction of maritime surveillance operations may open the country’s borders to activities that could hurt the economy, such as illegal fishing, smuggling and piracy.
Citing an Air Force accomplishment report, the senior defense official said the military would have to rely more on naval boats to patrol the country’s borders and protect its exclusive economic zones from poachers and illegal entrants.
“Given the rise in fuel prices and limited supply, the air force is constrained to allocate resources to its core function of providing air support to ground operations,” said the official, who declined to be named because he has no authority to speak to reporters.
“Surveillance missions and even disaster response would take a back seat until after the army terminates its offensive against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front on Mindanao.”
He said some of the S-211 planes had been moved to Mindanao to provide more lethal firepower to Vietnam War-era UH-1H “Huey” helicopters and propeller-driven OV-10 Broncos.
Nearly 300 people have been killed in more than two months of fighting in four southern provinces between soldiers and renegade members of the MILF, the largest Muslim rebel group in the south of the mainly Roman Catholic state.
Four people were killed in the latest incident on Wednesday, An army spokesman said.
The violence has forced Manila to scrap peace talks with the rebels to end the conflict that has killed 120,000 people and stunted growth in a region believed to be rich in deposits of minerals, oil and natural gas.