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Chiz backs bigger gov’t spending to acquire better, newer military hardware

By Office of Senator Chiz Escudero
August 18, 2015

PASAY CITY – Senator Chiz Escudero favors an increase in military spending to boost the country’s defense capabilities amid concerns over China’s continuous military buildup in the disputed West Philippine Sea, but warns the government against buying old and dilapidated second-hand weapons and equipment.

Escudero said that as much as possible the government should purchase “brand new” military hardware if it really wants to modernize the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), which is widely regarded as one of the weakest military forces in Southeast Asia.

“If we are going to pour in billions of pesos to improve the AFP, we might as well give our soldiers the best modern and sophisticated equipment we can get,” Escudero pointed out.

The veteran lawmaker said it is high time the Philippines invests in “reasonably priced” brand-new military weapons and equipment, especially those that would improve the country’s maritime defense capability.

“Huwag naman tayong bumili ng sobrang luma na at kakarag-karag na mga sasakyan at depektibong kagamitan na hindi na mapakikinabangan ng ating kasundaluhan. Huwag naman po nating ipahamak ang ating mga sundalo,” Escudero said. (We should discard the old practice of acquiring military equipment and vehicles that are too old and defective, and no longer useful to our armed forces. Let us not put the lives of our hardworking soldiers in danger.)

He added: “The least the government can do is to make sure that we provide our military forces with better and serviceable aircraft, naval ships and other equipment.”

Under the proposed P3.002 trillion national budget for 2016, the Department of National Defense (DND) ranks third among the line agencies with the highest allocation, next to the Department of Education (DepEd) and the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).

The 2016 budget proposal of the DND, which exercises supervision and control over the AFP, is P172 billion. It is P27.5 billion higher than its current budget of P144.5 billion.

On top of this, the government has allocated P75 billion for the first five years of implementation of the 15-year Revised AFP Modernization Act of 2012.

Escudero said the law provides that the modernization program shall consist of “capability, material and technology development with the acquisition of new equipment and weapons system and phase out of uneconomical and obsolete major equipment and weapons system in the AFP inventory.”

Even as he lauded the current administration for making long-needed investments in the military in recent years, Escudero said more needs to be done before improvements within the AFP can be felt.

Escudero said while the Department of Budget and Management reported that a total of P68 billion has already been spent to modernize the AFP since 1999, the much-needed and long overdue upgrades to the country’s armed forces remain elusive.

It is for this reason, he said, why the Senate has initiated a probe on the implementation of the modernization program aimed at upgrading the AFP, including the alleged irregular acquisitions of military equipment and weapons system.

The DND recently came under fire for the purchase of 21 refurbished “Huey” helicopters worth P1.2 billion.

There were allegations that the choppers, said to be older than the incumbent senior military officers, cannot be used and have obsolete parts, and that the purchase violated certain provisions of the country’s procurement law.

The big-ticket project was also supposedly tailor-made for a particular supplier in exchange for kickbacks.

Escudero said the helicopter deal controversy exposed infirmities in the AFP procurement process, which he branded as “too supplier-driven.”

The AFP Modernization Act, also known as Republic Act (RA) No. 7898, became a law in 1995 under the leadership of then President Fidel Ramos, who himself served as AFP chief and DND secretary during the time of President Corazon Aquino.

The law was meant to modernize all branches of the AFP such as the Philippine Air Force, the Philippine Navy and the Philippine Army. It was intended to last for 15 years with an initial budget of P50 billion for the first five years, but the funding was stopped due to the 1997 Asian financial crisis.

After the financial crisis, funding for the AFP modernization was halted and later neglected by successive administrations until the law expired in 2010.

In 2012, RA 7898 was amended by RA 10349, or the Revised AFP Modernization Act, which extended the modernization program to another 15 years with an initial budget of P75 billion for the first five years in order to continue upgrading all military branches and boost the country’s defense system.