Strengthening our military
SPYBITS (The Philippine Star) - August 29, 2013 - 12:00am

The Manila Overseas Press Club had a very successful “AFP Night” at the InterCon the other night with Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Emmanuel Bautista as guest speaker. The four-star general was joined by the commanding generals of the three major services of the military, namely Army chief Lt. Gen. Noel Coballes; Air Force chief Lt. Gen. Lauro Catalino dela Cruz; and the Navy’s Flag Officer in Command, Vice Admiral Jose Luis Alano – all of whom made forum moderator Tony Lopez and the media panelists very happy because they helped make the discussion very lively and interesting with their straightforward answers.

The AFP officials’ candor was certainly appreciated by guests that included New Zealand Ambassador Reuben Levermore, Australian Defense Attaché Lt. Col. Paul Barta and First Secretary Mashor Ibrahim of the Embassy of Brunei Darussalam. Also in the audience were Phils. Inc. members such as Tony Lopa and Tonyboy Cojuangco, and Armscor’s top executives led by chairman emeritus Demetrio “Bolo” Tuason, his son Martin (concurrently the president and CEO), Bolo’s brother Conkoy (who is both chairman and treasurer) and deputy CEO Gina Angangco.  Armscor has been very supportive of the AFP Self-Reliant Defense Posture program that can speed up the military’s goal to develop a minimum credible defense posture – which can be done if we also strengthen our local defense industry.

Naturally, one of the questions had to do with the pork barrel scandal, and if the issue has affected the morale of the men and women in the military. General Bautista (shown in photo delivering his keynote speech) reiterated that the AFP should not be engaged in partisan politics, at the same time issuing an appeal for the media to spare them from a political issue.

The fact of the matter is, the AFP is experiencing very high morale because of the support they are getting from the Aquino administration by way of the Revised AFP Modernization Program signed last December that has the biggest budget allocation ever at P75 billion over the next five years. The current administration has already released over P27 billion in its first three years – which is more than the P26.2 billion released in nine years by the previous administration for the modernization program.

Tony Lopez naughtily remarked that perhaps the budget for AFP modernization would have been doubled if not for the pork barrel, drawing amused laughs from the crowd including the other military officials who were present. In any case, one of those who has also been very vocal in supporting the military is Senator Loren Legarda who urged the government to ensure the release of the P75 billion for the AFP modernization, pointing out that at least P15 billion should be allotted for the program every year to cover the procurement of major weapons and non-weapons equipment and technology including the construction of major infrastructure. “If we withhold support to our AFP, we are in effect compromising our national security,” Loren said.

Among the items in the “shopping list” of the AFP are 12 FA-50 fighter jets from South Korea, two (Maestrale-class) frigates, amphibious assault vehicles as well as strategic sealift vessels, Howitzers plus other weapons and equipment. Plans are also underway for the purchase of 21 Huey helicopters – but the budget for these choppers is separate from the P75 billion allocated for the new modernization program. As General Bautista affirmed, “We have the money” – which has certainly boosted the morale of our military whose bravery and dedication will be strengthened and complemented by more modern hardware and equipment – rendering them more effective and efficient in discharging their mandate to protect the people and the state from security threats. 

But as the AFP chief said, everyone has a role to play in ensuring our stability and security as a nation. We can do more, he said, and now is the right time with the widespread change that is empowering even ordinary Filipinos in our search for “a just and lasting peace.”


‘Reinvigorated alliance’

Also at the InterCon prior to the MOPC AFP Night forum, General Bautista had a discussion with outgoing US Ambassador Harry Thomas (in photo), underscoring the strong alliance between the Philippines and the US, “our only treaty ally.” Actually, the general arrived last Sunday from Washington where he met with his counterpart, US Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey where they signed a joint vision statement to address “broad regional and global challenges” faced by both countries that include maritime security, terrorism, transnational crimes and even climate change.

The joint vision statement affirms the increased rotational presence of US military personnel in AFP-controlled facilities, with the general explaining during the forum that this simply increases the tempo for the planned activities that include joint trainings and exercises. Both countries are looking forward to a reinvigorated alliance which Bautista characterized as “strong and stronger.” He admitted that the discussion also included all possible security concerns including the West Philippine Sea and what can be the possible approaches to the issue – stressing of course that the priority is arbitration and a rules-based approach, as both the US and the Philippines seek to promote regional stability and strengthen the environment in Southeast Asia. 

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