US hands 2 Cessna planes to PAF

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/28 July) – The US government has donated two new Cessna 208B aircraft worth P1.67 billion to the Philippine Air Force (PAF) to enhance the country’s counterterrorism capabilities and support the military operations in besieged Marawi City.

The donation came on the heels of President Rodrigo Duterte’s statement during his second State of the Nation Address on Monday demanding the return of the Balangiga bells to the country.

US troops took the church bells in Balangiga, Samar after a punitive action that turned the island into a “howling wilderness” during the American colonization of the country.

A press release Thursday from the US Embassy said US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Y. Kim and Pacific Command deputy commander Lt. Gen. Bryan Fenton turned over the aircraft to Defense secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Gen. Eduardo Año and PAF commanding general Lt. Gen. Edgar Fallorina on Thursday at Villamor Air Base in Pasay City.

The release added, “Cessna 208B aircraft will enhance the PAF’s counterterrorism capabilities, and help protect AFP members actively engaged in counterterrorism operations in the southern Philippines, to include Marawi.”

The delivery of the new aircraft, which was part of the US National Defense Authorization Act Building Partnership Capacity Program, was the latest donation over the last five years from the US government that allocated over P15 billion worth of grant to help modernize the AFP with up-to-date equipment and training.

It also noted that representatives from the Joint United States Military Assistance Group in the Philippines have delivered and programmed over P7.4 billion worth of military equipment to the AFP to enhance counterterrorism capabilities since 2007.

“The equipment transfers, training, and continued bilateral exercises demonstrate the commitment of the United States to work with the Philippines in building capabilities towards eradicating global terror networks,” it said.

It added the AFP has “procured small-arms weapons, maritime assault boats, vehicles, unmanned aerial systems, and personal protective equipment as part of the US Government’s security assistance programs.”

The PAF’s 300th Air Intelligence and Security Group based in Zamboanga City will operate the two new C-208B aircraft, as the leading unit for air intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance operations for the AFP.

The latest aircraft are equipped with advanced sensors, cameras and communications equipment that will “significantly enhance the ability of the AFP to locate terrorist groups operating in Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago.”

“The United States, as a steadfast ally of the Philippines, continues to provide support to the AFP through both grant assistance and expedited sales of arms and munitions to support both long-term AFP modernization goals and urgent counterterrorism requirements,” the release said. (Antonio L. Colina IV/MindaNews)