AFP budget: The biggest ever

BABE’S EYE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON D.C. - Babe Romualdez - The Philippine Star

In the first few months after President Duterte took office, he promised our soldiers that he will modernize our Armed Forces and give them his full support. 

 AFP Vice Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Salvador Mison Jr. was in Washington, D.C. for the Chiefs of Defense Conference on countering violent extremist organizations hosted by the US Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford. The conference gathered representatives from 83 countries including US combatant commanders as well as counter-terrorism operations commanders who engaged in a discussion on how to counter violent extremism all over the world. Gen. Dunford told his global counterparts “there is no room for complacency.” The defense chiefs shared information, intelligence and best practices that would help them craft a more comprehensive solution to the problem of terrorism, with discussions also made on the fight in Afghanistan, the Sulu Sea and Southeast Asia.

General Mison was at the Philippine embassy in Washington with AFP Civil Relations Service Commander Maj. Gen. Bienvenido Datuin Jr. The generals presented me with a copy of “Marawi and Beyond: The Joint Task Force Marawi Story” which is actually a 28-volume series that tells of the heroism and sacrifices not only of the heroes of Marawi – but also the resilience, courage and unity shown by Filipinos in the face of terror.

I had a very good discussion with General Mison regarding the ongoing modernization program of the AFP. Passed in 2012, Republic Act 10349 or the Revised AFP Modernization Act amended RA 7898 – the “original” AFP Modernization Act of 1995 that set a 15-year period to upgrade and modernize the capability of the AFP with an initial budget of P50 billion for the first five years. However, the law expired in 2010 with not much modernization done especially in the purchase of equipment, aircraft and other assets, some of which date back to World War II. 

The revised 15-year modernization program is divided into three phases known as “horizons”: Horizon 1 covered 2013-2017, Horizon 2 runs from 2018 to 2022 and has a budget of P300 billion, while Horizon 3 is from 2023 to 2028.

General Mison told me he has been in the service for over three decades and is up for retirement next year – but he has never seen the unprecedented support given by President Duterte for the AFP’s modernization program compared to the last 15 years. During the first two years alone of the current administration, P80 billion was already allocated for modernization compared to the P60 billion in the previous 15 years.  

The AFP has an extensive shopping list, from individual weapons to ground mobility equipment, radars, multirole fighters, attack and combat utility choppers, assault boats, light tanks, multiple rocket launchers. Aside from big-ticket items, priority items intended for the Navy and the Air Force would be tactical and operational level unmanned aerial vehicles, night vision goggles, sniper rifles and tactical radios, among others.

President Duterte has been true to his word in pursuing the AFP modernization program to enhance the capability of our military in dealing with internal security challenges and upgrade our external defense capacity. Certainly, modernization provides the space for the Philippines and the United States to cooperate further because US military equipment continues to form the backbone of the Philippine government’s modernization program. 

But while the AFP is eager to pursue further cooperation with the US on this aspect and prefers American-made hardware, purchase decisions will depend on quality, cost and the speed of delivery. Under US law, the sale of US defense equipment and technology has to pass through the State Department – and there have been times when sales and deliveries were canceled due to sometimes unnecessary opposition from US legislators. 

This is where President Duterte’s independent foreign policy comes into play, because if the US cannot supply the needs of the AFP, then we have no choice but to look for other sources for key line items from other countries like Israel and South Korea. Beefing up our military will allow us to become a significant player in the Indo-Pacific region and in the fight against violent extremism.

I’m pleased to note that global private companies have also indicated their support for the AFP’s modernization program with some willing to set up shop in the country – which will create jobs and be good for the economy. One of them is Saab whose JAS39 Gripen fighter is preferred by Philippine Air Force officials because it is easy to operate and maintain. Airbus Defence is also interested to participate in the AFP modernization program, saying they have a portfolio that could fit the future requirements of the Philippines for air transport and maritime security. 

Private defense contractors are partnering with local manufacturers, like United Defense Manufacturing Corp. teaming up with South Korean firearms manufacturer S&T Motiv, and Armscor Global whose deal with Israeli weapons manufacturer EMTAN is seen to help the Philippines develop its own defense industry and make it less dependent on other countries for firearms and ammunition. 

President Trump himself has expressed on many occasions that he envisions a world of strong, sovereign and independent nations – which falls in line with President Duterte’s vision of a sovereign Philippines that can pursue relationships with other nations, and where alliances with other nations will not be one of dependency but of partnership borne of mutual respect.

As I told our friends time and again, we are not here in Washington, D.C. putting out our hand palm up to beg for aid – but extending a handshake as a commitment of our friendship.

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Email: [email protected].

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