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France seeks submarine deal with Philippines

The French government on Wednesday said it has offered to sell submarines to the Philippines in line with Manila's ongoing military modernization program to improve its defense and security capability. 

French Ambassador Michèle Boccoz said the submarine acquisition was raised during her meeting with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. 

"There are ongoing discussions, there is a tender, there’s been a proposal. This is an ongoing discussion between our two countries," Boccoz told a press briefing on the sidelines of a defense symposium hosted by the French Embassy and Stratbase Group.

Citing Marcos’ statement in his State of the Nation Address in July that he is committed to protecting the country’s territorial integrity, Boccoz said France is ready to help the Philippines upgrade its defense capability.

"We are definitely ready to partner with the Philippines on that in providing the force," she said.

France, she said, does not seek confrontation in the region, but stressed that countries should be ready "in case of a rival, conflictual situation."

"We have to have the right tools for that. A submarine force is one of the most efficient deterrents that we can possibly have," the envoy said.

With a P70-billion budget, the Philippines has been looking to purchase its first-ever diesel electric submarines.

Manila was hoping to procure at least two submarines and had received initial offers from France, India, South Korea, and Turkey. 

Rear Admiral Bertrand Dumoulin, deputy admiral in charge of the French Oceanic and Strategic Force (ALFOST), said submarines serve as an efficient deterrent and will help the Philippines protect its maritime rights and sovereignty.

"We share with the Philippine Navy some common values and common interest. So I think in this context we can provide very strategic value to deter and to be very credible on the international scene," Dumoulin said.

The Philippines and China have been embroiled in years-long territorial disputes in the South China Sea, particularly in the its southern part called the Spratlys.

Parts of the South China Sea that fall within the Philippines’ territory and exclusive economic zone have been renamed West Philippine Sea by Manila.

Nicolas de Villamarque, vice president for India and Asia-Pacific of the French submarine builder Naval Group, said included in France’s proposal for the acquisition of the submarines is a government-to-government scheme. 

Under its offer, France will provide education, training, and technology to the Philippines,  he added.

Villamarque said French submarines are state-of-the-art and assured that they are compatible and interoperable under NATO standards. 

"We are different first because we are a state-of-the-art submarine, which is sea-proven in many regional navies," Villamarque said. 

"Second, we, as a team, France-our navy, our government, our ministry of defense, our ministry of foreign affairs, we have the sea-proven capability to be able to create from scratch a submarine fleet."

He said France’s submarine program, which includes training and maintenance, has been done in a "very successful manner" in other countries. 

"This is what really makes us different from our competitors," Villamarque said.

Stratbase founder and president Victor Andres said having a credible defense posture would effectively help the Philippines protect its maritime rights and sovereignty.

"We are an archipelagic country and we need to develop our strategic assets to protect and assert our rights," Manhit said.

"The next step is how do we assert our rights? Is it about investing? How do we work with countries with technology that can help us strengthen our capacity with regards to the security, maritime challenges of the archipelagic nature of the Philippines?"

The South China Sea is a cluster of rocks, shoals, and reefs where rich oil and mineral deposits are found. The vital trading and shipping lane is claimed in part or in whole by the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan.

China's vast territorial claims in the waters have sparked tensions and violent confrontations with smaller claimants, like the Philippines and Vietnam. 

In 2016, the Philippines won against China in a landmark ruling by the Netherlands-based Permanent Court of Arbitration, which invalidated Beijing’s massive and historic claim over nearly the entire South China Sea. —VBL, GMA News