February 2, 2024
MANILA – Aside from pursuing a formal agreement for joint military exercises and patrols, France is discussing the possible sale to the Philippines of submarines, fighter planes and other defense hardware.
According to the French Ambassador to Manila, Marie Fontanel, her country is “very interested” in being part of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ modernization efforts.
“Yes, indeed, we are still in discussions for submarines,” she said during a visit to the Inquirer office on Jan. 24. “Many people discussed that (and) my impression is that there is still a need to explain why for a maritime nation like the Philippines there’s a need to have a submarine force. It doesn’t seem to be that obvious for everyone,” Fontanel said. “But in fact, (it serves) to deter the threat, it’s one of the most efficient equipment.”
“All your neighbors have already acquired submarines. So that was also one of my surprises,’’ said the diplomat, who arrived in the country in August last year.
Region’s submarine club
“One was the fact that you are not an exporter of rice. One of my other surprises (is) that you are not already a submarine force, because you are much more exposed than other countries,” she added.
Among Southeast Asian countries, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore and Vietnam have submarine programs, while Thailand is reportedly planning to acquire submarines.
“Some have chosen French submarines, others have chosen other companies. I mean, that’s fine, but at least they have a submarine force,” Fontanel said. “Of course, I would like to sell submarines, but it’s even better if we sell not only the equipment, but the knowledge and the training and all aspects that will make you able to maintain a submarine force in an autonomous way.”
In December last year, Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. and visiting French Defense Minister Sébastien Lecornu announced an intention to negotiate a visiting forces agreement (VFA) that would allow French troops into the Philippines.
So far, the Philippines has a VFA with the United States and Australia.
“We are waiting now for the President himself to say, ‘Yes, we go.’ But the willingness (to negotiate a VFA) is there,” Fontanel said.