Speaker Lord Allan Velasco (File photo)

MANILA – Speaker Lord Allan Velasco on Monday vowed to support efforts that will upgrade and modernize the Philippine Air Force (PAF) fleet following one of the country's deadliest military aviation accidents.

Velasco made the commitment as he expressed his condolences to the family and loved ones of the 50 individuals, mostly military personnel, who died in a C-130H plane crash Sunday in Patikul, Sulu.

“There are simply no words that can be said to console those left behind by our brave military personnel, as well as the three civilians who died as a result of this disaster,” Velasco said. “I can only give my word that we in the House of Representatives will include in the 2022 budget the modernization of the PAF’s fleet as well as ensure the proper training of personnel in handling modern equipment."

He said Congress was supposed to include the purchase of more C-130 planes in the 2021 national budget, but there was not enough time to deliberate on the PAF fleet modernization when he took over as Speaker in October last year.

He noted that sessions were suspended at the time, and President Rodrigo Duterte even had to call for a special session to prevent a reenactment of the 2020 national budget.

Velasco urged the Armed Forces of the Philippines to conduct a thorough investigation on the incident with the end in view of preventing such disasters from happening again.

He also called for a review of PAF pilots’ protocols, as well as an inquiry on the safety of runways around the country, especially in the provinces.

“We acknowledge the importance of our uniformed personnel, as our dear President Duterte himself has done so several times,” Velasco said. “The least we can do is to ensure that this never happens again.”

Full assistance, benefits

Majority Leader Martin Romualdez, for his part, said full government assistance and benefits should be extended to the loved ones of the fallen soldiers and survivors at the soonest time possible.

"I grieve with the families of our soldiers who perished in the C-130 plane crash in Sulu. These heroes of our time will be remembered for their great courage and service to our country," Romualdez said.

Romualdez said the House of Representatives will await a full report from Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who ordered an investigation on this tragic incident.

"After receiving the report, rest assured that we will exhaust all means possible to make sure that our soldiers and men in uniform are safe from harm and their welfare protected," Romualdez said.

Deputy speaker Rufus Rodriguez urged the Department of National Defense (DND) and the military to extend all possible help to soldiers who died or were injured in the C-130 plane crash.

“My deepest sympathies to the DND and the families of our soldiers who died in the plane crash. Please extend all possible assistance from the DND and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to our fallen heroes and those injured," Rodriguez said in a text message to Lorenzana.

Rodriguez also requested for a list of victims from Cagayan de Oro, so that his office could give assistance to their families.

“My heartfelt and sincere condolences to the families of the fallen soldiers and crew and civilians, and prayers for the speedy recovery of the injured, all of whom prepared to bravely defend our nation,” he said. “It is with deep sadness that this tragedy took the lives of many young soldiers and injured dozens, most of whom are residents of Cagayan de Oro and Misamis Oriental."

Rodriguez lauded Lorenzana for grounding similar aircraft of the military until an investigation into the Sulu plane crash is finished.

“They have to determine the cause as soon as possible. By most accounts, the C-130 is a safe transport plane,” he said.

Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga condoled with the victims’ families, saying that “I join the Filipino nation in condoling with those who have lost their loved ones in the tragic accident in Sulu. This is very unfortunate."

The plane that crashed was one of the two C-130H acquired through a grant from the US government that arrived in the country last Jan. 29.

The death toll from the crash on Sunday has climbed to 50 -- 47 are military personnel while the three others are civilians who were on the ground when the plane crashed and exploded near their homes in Sitio Amman, Barangay Bangkal, Patikul. Four other civilians were injured.

All passengers, pilots and crew have been retrieved. Meantime, the search for the C-130's black box is ongoing.

Some 49 military personnel and four civilians are undergoing treatment for injuries sustained in the crash. (PNA)