MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippine navy commissioned its first amphibious landing dock and three smaller landing craft on Wednesday as it continues to modernize its fleet amid a territorial row with China in the South China Sea.
President Benigno Aquino III said the landing dock BRP Tarlac, which can transport a landing force, is now the navy's biggest ship. It was acquired under a 60.1 billion peso ($1.3 billion) military modernization program begun in 2010, he said at the navy's 118th anniversary ceremony.
Over the years, the Philippine military has deteriorated to become one of Asia's weakest. Aquino said his government has upgraded its capabilities through the modernization program.
The 123-meter (400-foot) landing dock, which can also carry transport helicopters, is the first of two such vessels for the navy. The second, also built in Indonesia, is expected to be delivered next year.
The three smaller landing craft were bought from Australia to augment two similar vessels donated earlier by the Australian government.
Aquino, whose six-year term ends on June 30, said a general purpose oceanographic research vessel that can help map the seabed is also expected to be delivered in June. Also being acquired are two frigates, two anti-submarine warfare helicopters, and a high endurance cutter, he added.
Navy chief Vice Admiral Ceasar Taccad vowed to defend the country's territory.
"Today, the enemy stands at our doorstep and we can no longer over-exaggerate the urgency of the threat against our maritime interests and possibly our territorial integrity," he said.