BATAAN, PHILIPPINES - The Philippines ongoing territorial tensions with China have led it to try to modernize its military, which for years had one of the smallest budgets in Asia. The country is spending more on more advanced ships and planes, but it is also trying to entice arms manufacturers to set up shop locally.
Each day 200,000 bullets are produced at the Government Arsenal. But it is not enough to supply the Philippine Armed Forces with the ammunition it requires.
The facility’s director, Jonathan Martir, explained a plan to open a defense economic zone, a tax-free place for foreign arms manufacturers to make more and better weapons for the Philippines.
“We’re going to achieve self-reliance simply because we’re going to manufacture here in the Philippines... imagine us manufacturing high level equipment, weaponry, that we’ve never manufactured before,” he said.
Upgrading Manila's aging arsenal is just one part of the plan. Manila is also conducting joint exercises with Japanese and American forces, improving the country's ability to patrol and secure its thousands of remote islands.
Beijing has built military outposts in parts of the South China Sea, known here as the West Philippine Sea. That includes a landing strip on a once-submerged reef.
Both countries say they are trying to avoid confrontation, but Manila-based defense consultant Jose Antonio Custodio said there are no illusions about how the two-armed forces compare.
“Against a country like China and the lack of any capabilities on the Philippine side, the West Philippines Sea installations can be overrun in barely half a day,” he said.
The effort to try to make those forces more formidable is taking shape at Government Arsenal, even though some of the equipment here dates back to the Second World War.
“The sorry state of our defense industry right now, even without the threat from the South China Sea, we still have to improve our capability to manufacture our own ammunition,” Martir stated.
He added that the arsenal still needs presidential approval to allow foreign firms to make weapons here.