Worthy cost of military upgrading | Inquirer Opinion

Worthy cost of military upgrading

/ 05:07 AM February 01, 2024

The modernization of the country’s military gained a significant boost with the recent approval by President Marcos of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ upgraded acquisition plan called “Re-Horizon 3.”

The plan, which has a 10-year timeline and would cost some P2 trillion, is geared toward protecting the country’s maritime and aerial domains, which have been repeatedly disrespected by China.

In October last year, AFP chief of staff Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. said that as an archipelagic nation, the Philippines should upgrade and beef up its military assets to protect the country’s extensive territory.


That effort would require improving the external capabilities of the Air Force and the Navy through the acquisition of more advanced jet fighters and other air assets that will patrol along with naval vessels.


Mr. Marcos, in July 2023, directed the AFP to “ensure the security of Filipinos and the national sovereignty of our country” amid China’s increasing aggression in the West Philippine Sea.

Military powerIn a related development, Congress earlier realigned billions of pesos in confidential funds requested by the Department of Education and other government offices to the Philippine Coast Guard to enable it to efficiently perform its mission to protect the country’s maritime resources.Under the 2024 national budget, the Department of National Defense, to which the AFP is attached, has a budgetary allocation of P278 billion, of which P40 billion is intended for the AFP’s modernization program.

That P40-billion allocation is paltry compared to the huge budgetary appropriations of some countries in the Asean region to their military.

The latest survey on military power in Asean by Global Firepower, an international think tank on military operations, showed the Philippines as fifth in the list after Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, and Singapore.

That’s right. Singapore, a tiny island-nation, has more military muscle than the Philippines. Only Myanmar, Malaysia, Cambodia, and Laos were ranked weaker in military strength than the rest.

Deal of the century

The modernization of the AFP has been a work in progress for decades with every president committing to make it a reality.


In 1995, the government, then headed by President Fidel Ramos, sold the 240-hectare home of the Philippine Army, Fort Bonifacio, to Metro Pacific Consortium for P33,000 per square meter.

Since that bid price was an all-time high at that time, the sale was described by the business community as the local real estate deal of the century.

To make up for the “loss” of the military’s largest base of operation, P8 billion were allocated from the proceeds of the sale to fund the AFP’s modernization program.

In 2001, when Ramos was asked about the disposition of that money, he said he turned over P5.484 billion to his successor, then President Joseph Estrada.

Territorial integrity

As things turned out later, that allocation could not be accounted for and no effort was made by the succeeding administrations to find out where it went or in whose pockets it found its way.

Except for a few purchases of military hardware, the modernization program remained a wish list.

There is no dispute about the need to upgrade the capabilities of the AFP in light of the external threats to the national sovereignty, in particular, China’s illegal efforts to claim ownership of maritime areas that are undisputedly within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

Although the United States has repeatedly assured the Philippines that it would come to its aid in case China does anything that would trigger the activation of the US-Philippines defense treaty, the responsibility of defending the country’s territorial integrity rests with the AFP.

Protecting sovereignty

No self-respecting nation would make the defense of its sovereignty dependent on the assistance of another country, no matter how close their relations with each other may be.

History is replete with instances when promises of military support by powerful countries to their supposed allies when the latter are attacked by external forces were not fulfilled in spite of repeated pleas.

Reneging on that commitment can be easily justified by citing geopolitical, economic, and internal politically related reasons. Indeed, there are no permanent friends or permanent enemies, only permanent interests.

At first blush, the P2-trillion cost of the AFP’s updated modernization program may look big and may require sacrificing some significant development projects to fund it.

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True, that’s a lot of money and that other sectors of our society are in dire need of money, too, but the price of protecting sovereignty does not come cheap. And it comes with sacrifices that should be borne by the entire citizenry.


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