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AFP modernization program and nat’l interest

The unobstructed incursion of other countries’ navies, coast guard, and even civilian fishing vessels into the Philippines’ exclusive economic zones has led to the realization that the AFP cannot protect the Philippine national territory from foreign aggression and resource exploitation of its offshore resources by foreign nations. The AFP has been perennially plagued with resource constraints and systematic failure in sustaining the implementation of its long-term strategic development plans.

The lack of both material and non-material military capabilities to address the external and internal defense capability vacuum forced the AFP to formulate long-term strategic goals and objectives that eventually led to the formulation of the AFP modernization program in 1995 through Republic Act No. 7898, which entails a 15-year program to modernize the AFP, with a promised allocation amounting to P330 billion. Unfortunately, in 2010, less than 10 percent or only approximately P30 billion of the allotted funds were actually allocated to the AFP. With the lapse of RA 7898 in February 2010, RA 10349 was enacted in December 2012, giving a new mandate to continue the AFP modernization program for another 15 years, and a promised budgetary allocation of P75 billion for the first five years. However, these various budgetary promises made by Congress were not translated into actual defense spending.

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The country’s economic situation is an important factor that would determine the prospects of getting the funding needed for the AFP modernization program year on year. Defense expenditure to gross domestic product (GDP) ratio is an important indicator of the portion of the national resources allocated for security and military purposes. Per the Department of Budget and Management, the DND has a total budget of “P132.9 billion for 2017,” “P145.0 billion for 2018,” “P183.4 billion for 2019,” “P192.1 billion for 2020,” and “P205.8 billion for 2021.” The current 2021 DND budget is almost 4.56 percent of the 2021 national budget and is already 4.1 percent of the country’s 2020 COVID-19 era GDP. That is also above the global standard of 2-4 percent defense spending ratio to the GDP. However, the DND’s consistent reasoning during the annual budget hearings is that the annual increase in defense budget from 2017 to 2021 was not primarily intended for the AFP modernization program, but to keep up with salary increases, pension benefits, and other personnel-related expenses.

In addition to the ballooning deficit incurred to support the AFP retirees’ pension funds, the DND is facing unprecedented territorial issues in the West Philippine Sea that have spilled over to the Pacific side of Benham Rise, along with unabated cross-border maritime piracy in southern waters. The 2017 Marawi siege highlighted how ill-prepared the AFP was in defending the nation, both from internal and external threats. In addition, the resurgence of the communist insurgency after a falling-out with President Durterte exposed the AFP’s incapability to suppress the longest and last remaining communist armed struggle in the world. This all seemingly redounds to the failure of the other pillar of the AFP modernization program, which is the development of appropriate doctrine and education attuned to addressing the security threats affecting the country.

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The unfavorable performance of the country’s domestic economy and deteriorating investment climate since the start of the longest COVID-19-related lockdown in the world are bad indicators that the AFP modernization program cannot be funded or sustainably maintained for the next three years or so. Despite President Duterte’s publicly announced support for the welfare of our troops and the AFP modernization program, for which he has consistently raised the DND budget in the past four years, the general public is left out in the cold on the true status of our Armed Forces. With all the pressing issues affecting national security and the nation, nothing is more important to the Filipino people than knowing the real status of the AFP modernization program, and knowing where taxpayer money in the defense budget goes and for what use.

Proscoro Ervin Mundo, PhD, currently teaches Urban Plan Implementation at the University of the Philippines’ Master in Land Use Planning program. He is a retired Navy captain (colonel) and a graduate of the Philippine Military Academy. He earned his PhD in Urban and Regional Planning from the School of Urban and Regional Planning of the University of the Philippines.

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TAGS: AFP Modernization Program, Commentary, National Interest, Proscoro Ervin Mundo
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