The country has one of the weakest armed forces in this part of the world. With Filipinos acknowledging the need for the nation to develop credible defense capability, that weakness has compelled the government to turn to its treaty ally theThe weakness has also persuaded policy makers to allot more public funds for a ramped-up modernization program – still modest by regional standards – for the Armed Forces of the
United States for help in protecting the ’
territorial integrity. Philippines
This is the problem now faced by the military amid a controversy that has erupted over the acquisition of 21 UH-1 or Huey helicopters worth P1.2 billion from a joint venture of American and Canadian companies. The bidding committee of the Department of National Defense has been accused of favoring the suppliers and allowing the delivery of helicopters that are allegedly old and defective. DND officials have said the deal was aboveboard, but a panel has been created to investigate the accusations.
News reports said UH-1D helicopters were delivered instead of the more advanced UH-1H. Eight of the helicopters have been accepted by the Philippine Air Force, whose officials said the aircraft are working and operational.Corruption scandals hounded the DND and AFP in the previous administration, with a star-ranked former comptroller being convicted and imprisoned for graft. A former military and defense chief killed himself over his mother’s grave amid accusations of wrongdoing.
The scandals led to reforms to cut red tape and make procurement procedures transparent in the DND and AFP. It is not clear if the reforms have been sustained. Budget procedures for the AFP were also overhauled to make the system transparent and prevent fund juggling.
If the latest allegations prove correct, either there has been backsliding in reforms, or more changes are needed in the way defense contracts are awarded and public funds are spent. The controversy over the helicopter deal must be cleared up quickly and credibly, before it sours enthusiasm for spending billions in public funds for military modernization.