Saturday, 30 January 2010

A grievous loss

The Philippine Star

The pilot radioed that his plane was losing power shortly after it took off from Cotabato City. Minutes later, the Nomad plane carrying eight members of the Philippine Air Force crashed in a residential area. No one survived, and a woman was killed in the residential neighborhood where several houses were destroyed.

As of yesterday, investigators were still retrieving plane debris to determine the cause of the crash. It was one of the worst disasters for the Philippine Air Force, which has lost countless personnel and aircraft in accidents. The latest death toll is one of the worst for the PAF, and the loss of the Nomad further reduces the air capability of one of Asia’s weakest air forces.

Boosting the capability of the PAF and the rest of the Armed Forces of the Philippines must be among the priorities of the next president and commander-in-chief. After nearly a century of being part of the American security umbrella, the Philippines became dependent on US military aid. When that aid was greatly reduced following the shutdown of the US bases, the AFP was ill prepared for it. Today the Philippines has one of the most poorly equipped armed forces in the region, with limited capability to go after poachers and other intruders or fight enemies of the state.

A modest modernization program has not been enough to give the AFP credible capability to carry out its duties. These include not just national defense and protecting the country’s territorial integrity but also rescue and relief operations in times of disasters. The lack of equipment is felt particularly in the Air Force, which must rely on aging aircraft and limited fuel allocations to carry out its many tasks.

The Air Force is not lacking in competent pilots, who manage to carry out their tasks despite limited PAF capability. The eight fatalities in the latest plane crash are a grievous loss. The competence and dedication of PAF personnel must be rewarded with better tools to carry out their duties.

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