From the Business Mirror (Apr 23): PHL explores paths to modern defense (Pt. 1)
In Photo: This file photo shows armored personnel carriers (APCs) running along Edsa. The previous administration is credited with buying equipment under a P90.86-billion budget, including 114 APCs, in a bid to modernize the Philippines’s defense capability.
DEFENSE Secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana has announced late last year that the government will be acquiring drones and small but fast boats from China through a $14-million Chinese grant, in the continuing effort to modernize the Armed Forces.
Beijing, to which Manila is pivoting to under the current administration, has also pledged to provide an additional $500 million in soft loans, still for the equipment of Filipino soldiers, should President Duterte beg for more.
The acquisition of Chinese drones and fastcraft followed a similar plan by the Department of National Defense (DND) to procure sniper rifles and, possibly, even other assets and equipment from Russia, as the country veers away from the West, its traditional ally. The assets and equipment from Beijing and Moscow were the first planned procurement for the Eastern-leaning Duterte administration, as it officially gets hold of the huge military modernization money, beginning next year.
WHILE it is certain the government will pursue the modernization program, given the assured funding by way of Republic Act 10349, or the revised Armed Forces of the Philippines Modernization Act, how and where this money would be spent remains a question.
Except for the Chinese and Russian equipment, the current administration is yet to craft its whole acquisition program, mainly by identifying the pieces of assets, equipment and armaments that it will acquire for the Armed Forces up to the end of Duterte’s term.
The absence of a projected acquisition package has negated the defense and military establishments from drawing their lists of priority procurements, although National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. already said last year the Armed Forces would go for smaller assets over bigger ones.
The seeming laxity of a procurement plan, along with a dedicated office and highly competent people, despite the nearly one year in office of the Duterte administration, may have been exacerbated by the fact that the military has yet to decide whether it should prioritize territorial defense over internal operations, given the “friendly” stance of the Commander in Chief with China.
While Lorenzana has already inked two deals—the lease of five Japanese TC-90 aircraft, two of which have been delivered, and the procurement of two brand- new South Korean frigates worth P15,744,571,584—they still fall under the previous administration’s spending.
Just a week before transferring the baton of leadership to Lorenzana last year, former Defense Secretary Voltaire T. Gazmin closed the DND’s Philippine Defense Reform (PDR) Program, the visionary track that he crafted and implemented to rebuild and strengthen the capabilities of the DND and the Armed Forces.
Gazmin also shut down the subprograms under the defense- reform initiatives that covered developments and improvements in the areas of personnel management system; logistics and acquisition capacity; and education and training of soldiers, reservists and reserve force and civilians.
AT the end of the Aquino administration in June last year, and with territorial defense as the foremost priority, the military has been equipped with at least P65.9 billion worth of assets and equipment under its modernization program.
The funds did not beef up, but put in its inventory various types of flying, floating and moving air, sea and land assets; armaments and equipment that boosted its operational readiness and defense capabilities. From 2013 up to the end of this year, the previous administration has lined up 33 projects, with the projects and procurement totaling for
over P90.86 billion.
Among the equipment that were acquired were three Hamilton-class cutters; six multipurpose assault craft; 114 armored personnel carriers; three brand-new C-295 medium lift aircraft; three C-130 heavy transports and a squadron of FA-50 fighter jets, eight of which have been delivered.
It also included 13 AgustaWestland AW-109 helicopters, five landing craft heavies, three multipurpose attack craft and two strategic sealift vessels, one of which is yet to be delivered by the contractor, PT PAL of Indonesia.
Since the assumption of the Aquino administration in July 2010 and up to October 2014, at least 91 modernization projects were also completed.
The overall procurement was afforded by RA 10349, or the revised Armed Forces of the Philippines Modernization Act, which was passed in December 2012, and which the Aquino administration allotted with a budget of P75 billion for its five years. The law extended the life for another 15 years of the expired RA 7898, or the original modernization law of the Armed Forces.
The RA 7898, which was passed during the term of former President Fidel V. Ramos in 1995, and has a life span of 15 years with a mandated initial budget of P50 billion, was supposed to have modernized the military. It did not.
The RA 7898, which spanned three administrations and ate up to the first two years of the former Aquino administration, was supposed to have given the military P331 billion in modernization funds. Only a total of P58.4 billion was released. Out of the P58.4 billion, P31.6 billion was provided during the 18 months of the Aquino administration.
To be continued