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Drilon takes aim at AFP golf courses

/ 04:48 AM August 29, 2011

Many Senate inquiries are often carried out “in aid of legislation,” a much-abused phrase that often results in a lot of publicity and little legislation.

Some time last year, it was revealed that officials of government-owned and -controlled corporations (GOCCs) were raking in millions in salaries and allowances and all sorts of benefits, including special bonus packages for holidays. There was an absolute lack of control over the emoluments that were being granted by the board of directors/trustees of these corporations to their officers and employees and also to themselves. President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was playing it cool by not doing anything, although she must have been aware of what was happening.

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When the 15th Congress began its regular session in July 2010, one of the first hearings conducted by the Senate finance committee chaired by Sen. Franklin Drilon was on the subject of these compensation packages. The inquiry produced even more shocking testimony on the abuses of GOCCs involving the grant of all kinds of remuneration.

This time, the hearings produced vital legislation needed to rationalize the operations of GOCCs. Last June President Aquino signed into law Republic Act No. 10149, known as the “GOCC Governance Act of 2011.” The new law is aimed at promoting the financial viability and fiscal discipline in GOCCs as well as strengthening the role of the state in the governance and management of GOCCs to make them more responsive to the needs of the public.

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Drilon can rightfully claim much of the credit for this piece of legislation. The hearings of his committee served as the spark plug in creating an awareness of the need for better control and governance of GOCCs.

Last week, Drilon zeroed in on AFP golf courses. This is what he is reported to have said regarding the five military-owned assets in Metro Manila: “We are asking the DND to look at these assets for purposes of a source of revenue for the modernization of our Armed Forces. We are not saying that they should sell the assets. But certainly they should have a better income from these assets worth at least P45 billion.” (These golf courses are located in Camp Aguinaldo, Fort Bonifacio (2), Villamor Air Base, and Veterans Hospital in Quezon City.)

Let me backtrack a bit. For many years, tennis was my game of choice. It provided me enough exercise in a relatively short period of time. As far as golf was concerned, I didn’t know the difference between a bogey and a birdie. But after a triple heart bypass operation, I had to slow down and so I shifted to golf. And I discovered the wonders of the game. Today I play golf once or twice a week at the Camp Aguinaldo Golf Club (now renamed the AFP Golf Club) or at the Philippine Navy golf facility in Fort Bonifacio or at the Villamor Air Base Golf Club. One of my ambitions before kicking the bucket is to score a hole-in-one, but as my drives get shorter and shorter with age, the hole seems to move farther and farther away.

Drilon puts things diplomatically. He does not say outright that we should sell these courses. Instead he calls for better income in the utilization of these assets.

But let us be realistic. You can only generate so much from improvements or long-term leases that are often the subject of litigious actions. (Check out the Camp John Hay problems.)

Today the AFP is the laughingstock of military establishments in the region. We have been talking about modernization programs for the last 15 years, and nothing has really happened. We sold off Fort Bonifacio specifically for an AFP modernization program, but no one knows where the money went or what it was used for although the law provides for the AFP share to be deposited in an AFP Modernization Trust Fund. Each time I pass by the Bonifacio Global City, with its rising skyscrapers and condominium offices, I am sadly reminded how this land was part of the legacy of the AFP.

But having mentioned all this, there is no question about the need to upgrade (“modernization” is such a pompous term) our Armed Forces. The secessionist problem in Mindanao is not going to disappear even with peace treaties being concluded. First it was the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). We had a peace treaty with them, remember? Today we are talking with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), and another peace treaty is in the works. In the background, we have the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) coming to the fore and making itself felt. In the future, there will be new rebel groups led by a younger generation of Moro leaders fired up by the vision of an independent Moro homeland. We face external threats in upholding our sovereignty over territorial waters in the West Philippine Sea.

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Both threats call for a strong and reliable military organization. We are jumping with joy over the acquisition of a 40-year-old coast guard cutter that we sometimes refer to as a warship, while our neighbors are investing in submarines and aircraft carriers. I am not saying that we should do the same. We don’t have the resources for that kind of force.

Let me make two proposals in support of an AFP upgrade program: First, sell off all five military golf courses. Or second, allow the AFP to keep and maintain one of the five courses for use of its personnel, active and retired. By the way, there are more civilian golfers using the military courses than military personnel. In the case of Camp Aguinaldo, more than 60 percent of the membership is civilian.

In either case, let us make sure that the Fort Bonifacio experience is not repeated and that the revenues realized from the sale go into upgrading and expanding the Armed Forces.

* * *

In my last column on the Department of National Defense, I mentioned that the father of the Batac brothers, Eduardo (DND undersecretary), Victor, and Vicente, was Col. Gonzalo Batac, one of my tactical officers in the Philippine Military Academy. Actually Gonzalo retired as the head of the First Military Area in Camp Servillano Aquino in Tarlac, with the rank of brigadier general.

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TAGS: AFP, AFP Modernization Fund, Armed Forces of the Philippines, GOCC Governance Act of 2011, golf courses, government-owned and -controlled corporations (GOCCs), Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), Sen. Franklin Drilon
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