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Privilege Speech on the Occasion of the Armed Forces of the Filipino People Week (29 August 2017)

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PRIVILEGE SPEECH OF MAGDALO PARTY-LIST REP. GARY C. ALEJANO ON THE OCCASION OF THE ARMED FORCES OF THE FILIPINO PEOPLE WEEK

(29 AUGUST 2017)

I. Introduction

Mr. Speaker, my esteemed colleagues, and our countrymen, a pleasant afternoon.

I rise on a matter of personal and collective privilege in connection with this year’s observance of the Armed Forces of the Filipino People Week.

Three years ago, during the 16th Congress, Republic Act No. 10664 was enacted. The said law declares the last full week of August as the Armed Forces of the Filipino People Week in honor of the men and women in our armed forces of today and of the past who have relentlessly served our country to fulfill their duty of preserving peace and defending our territory.

But the preservation of peace and the defense of our territory, the accomplishment of this duty, pose a burden to our military. We, my dear colleagues, as leaders of our nation, have the responsibility to protect their welfare and lighten this burden.

We must continually express and manifest our support to them. We must be committed in protecting their welfare and ensuring that they receive the highest form of respect befitting those who have selflessly responded to the call of service by providing them adequate equipment to effectively and efficiently accomplish their mandate.

Ako po ay naka uniporme ngayon gaya ng nakaraang taon bilang simbolo ng aking suporta sa ating mga sundalong nagsilbi at nagsisilbi pa sa ating bayan. Kagaya ng marami sa ating mga kasamahan katulad ni Speaker Bebot Alvarez, Majority Floor Leader Rudy Fariñas, at iba pa kayo ay aking iniimbitahan na sumanib sa ating Hukbong Sandatahang Lakas ng Pilipinas bilang miyembro ng Reserve Force.

Inaanyayahan ko po ang ating mga kasamahan, maging ang mga empleyado ng Kongreso na makilahok sa 2 araw na aktibidad na nagsimula ngayong araw upang gunitain ang Armed Forces of the Filipino Week sa North Wing lobby. Ngayong araw ay nagkaroon po ng blood-letting activity na alay sa ating mga kawal sa Marawi. Mayroon ding AFP Static Display hanggang bukas upang lalo tayong maliwanagan sa tungkulin ng  ating mga kasundaluhan. Isa rin pong misa ang iaalay bukas ng 12:30pm para sa ating mga kawal at kanilang pamilya.

II. Marawi Crisis

This is also the opportune time to give honor, appreciation and gratitude to our men and women of the AFP who responded to the call of duty when the Marawi crisis broke out in May 23. As of today, 130 soldiers have offered the extreme sacrifice and around a thousand have either been wounded or disabled. Huwag po natin silang kalimutan. Pahanggang sa ngayon, hindi pa po tapos ang labanan sa Marawi at ako po ay nababahala na ang kaguluhan doon ay di matatapos sa pagkagapi ng Maute at Abu Sayaff. May nagbabadyang panganib sa seguridad ng bansa dulot ng kamay na bakal na polisiya ng kasalukuyang administrasyon.

III. A Promise to Build a Strong and Credible AFP

Perhaps realizing the risks and sacrifices that our soldiers face in defending and maintaining our country’s sovereignty, the President during the commencement exercises of the PMA “Salaknib” Class of 2017 promised that the government will reciprocate our soldier’s valor and unwavering courage by providing the military the necessary support and incentives.

He also promised during the same event that in two to three years the AFP will have flight simulators, radars, support patrol and assault vehicles as well as new surveillance and fighter aircrafts so that our troops can better patrol our borders and guard our seas.

To further stress his determination to strengthen and improve the capabilities of our armed forces, the President vowed in his second SONA last July that he will build a stronger and more credible national defense system for our country in order to address insurgency and terrorism.

The policy to strengthen an institution that is laden with a plethora of security problems is indeed laudable and deserves the backing of the members of this honourable chamber.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines is continually plagued by multitude of security problems that pose a challenge in the fulfillment of their mandate which is to secure the sovereignty of the State and the integrity of the national territory.

Our Armed Forces has continuously contended with Asia’s longest running communist insurgency that has spanned over the term of five Presidents. During the start of the Duterte administration, the attainment of a just and lasting peace seems at hand. However, the constant attacks perpetrated by the NPA while the peace talks is ongoing compelled the government to cease with the talks.

Aside from contending with the communist insurgents, the AFP is also tasked to conduct Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response (HADR) operations in support to NDRRMC and other agencies in order to mitigate the effects of natural and man-made disasters. This poses a challenge given our country’s geographic location wherein an average of 20 typhoons visit the country every year.

Aside from the local communist insurgents, the AFP is also expected to combat the rising threat of extremism and foreign ideology especially in the southern regions of the country. This is more evident with the recent conflict that has enveloped Marawi. The prolonged standoff in Marawi placed a heavy burden to our government. According to the estimates of Defense Secretary Lorenzana, the military operations in Marawi City has cost the government about P3 billion. That does not include yet the cost of feeding the evacuees for almost 3 months now, and the losses due to the suspended commerce in Marawi. It will further cost our government more than P20 billion to rebuild Marawi.

On the external front, the incessant incursions made by China in our territory poses a big challenge to our military. Just last week, I reported in the plenary the presence of five Chinese vessels two to five nautical miles away from Pag-Asa Island. As we all know, Pag-Asa Island is the largest occupied island of the country and is the seat of the Kalayaan municipal government under the province of Palawan. Marami pang nangyayari sa WPS na hindi natin batid dahil sa kasalukuyang stratehiya ng bansa sa pakiki-ugnayan sa bansang Tsina.

These, my dear colleagues, are the hurdles that our soldiers need to overcome on a daily basis in order to fulfil their function as mandated by the Constitution. It is astounding to think that our gallant men and women were able to perform all of these given the minimal support that we in Congress are providing them in terms of funding.

IV. Government on Defense Spending

Makatotohanan ba ang pangako ng Pangulo that by the end of his term, we will have a strong and credible armed forces? Ano ba ang estado ng ating armed forces sa ngayon? The truth is that despite the enactment of Republic Act No. 7898 in 1995 or the “AFP Modernization Act”, and the passage of Republic Act No. 10349 or the “Revised AFP Modernization Act” in 2012, the procurement of crucial defense materiels was insignificant and, sadly, the Armed Forces of the Philippines still remains among the least capable militaries in the region.

ASEAN Defense Spending per GDP
ASEAN Countries 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
BRUNEI 2.60% 2.60% 2.50% 3.30% 3.20% 2.50% 2.40% 2.60% 3.10% 3.30% 3.80%
SINGAPORE 3.90% 3.60% 3.90% 3.90% 3.40% 3.20% 3.20% 3.10% 3.10% 3.20% 3.40%
VIETNAM 1.90% 2.30% 2.20% 2.30% 2.30% 2.00% 2.20% 2.20% 2.30% 2.30% 2.40%
CAMBODIA 1.00% 0.90% 0.80% 1.30% 1.50% 1.50% 1.50% 1.60% 1.70% 2.10% 1.80%
THAILAND 1.20% 1.40% 1.60% 1.80% 1.60% 1.60% 1.40% 1.40% 1.40% 1.50% 1.50%
MALAYSIA 2.00% 2.10% 1.90% 2.00% 1.50% 1.60% 1.40% 1.50% 1.50% 1.50% 1.40%
PHILIPPINES 1.30% 1.30% 1.30% 1.30% 1.20% 1.20% 1.20% 1.20% 1.10% 1.10% 1.30%
INDONESIA 0.70% 0.80% 0.60% 0.60% 0.60% 0.70% 0.70% 0.90% 0.80% 0.90% 0.90%
MYANMAR 4.30% 4.40% 4.10% 4.80%
LAOS 0.40% 0.40% 0.30% 0.30% 0.20% 0.20% 0.20% 0.20%

 

Let us look at our country’s defense spending. The Table on the screen shows the Defense Spending of the different Southeast Asian countries as percentage of their GDP. The table shows that Brunei and Singapore allocate more in terms of GDP percentage from among the nations in ASEAN for their defense. This despite the fact that  these countries do not need to contend with the kind of threats that our military face. Ang Pilipinas ay pampito sa sampung miyembro ng ASEAN pagdating sa defense spending as percentage of GDP.

The pie chart displayed shows the percentage of Defense Spending contributed by the different countries in ASEAN. Singapore accounted for over a quarter of ASEAN’s defense spending in 2014, or the equivalent of the spending of Vietnam, the Philippines, and Myanmar combined.

The average Defense Spending as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) was 2.2 percent in ASEAN in 2014, the Philippines is way below that average with 1.1%.

The defense capabilities of our country are directed not only at one threat, but at several threats at one time. Hence, it could be likened to a butter spread thinly over too much bread.

Defense spending is not solely about procurement of big ticket defense materiels like ships, aircrafts and tanks. In fact, this is the total allocation to defense which includes personal services, annual operating cost and capital outlay. It is noteworthy to state that pension for our retired members of the AFP accounts for about 30% of the defense budget. Only a measly 13% of the total budget is allocated to the modernizaton program of the AFP.

Defense of our country is perceived in terms of the state of our defense capabilities and our determination to use these capabilities when the need arises. Nakakalungkot lamang na marinig natin mula sa matataas na opisyal ng ating gobyerno na hindi natin kayang depensahan and ating bansa. Such pronouncements not only dampen the will to fight of our soldiers but also destroy our reputation in the defense community.

V. The AFP Modernization Plan

Bakit nga ba ganito ang estado ng ating armed forces?

A little bit of history. When the United States left in 1992 after the US Military Bases Agreement was repealed, the Philippines was left with an armed forces that has very limited capabilities. The AFP is basically ISO oriented and its territorial defense capabilities amount to almost nothing.

Hence, the Philippines embarked on a program to modernize its armed forces. In 1995, Republic Act No. 7898 was enacted into law. This law provided the legal basis for the implementation of the AFP Modernization Program. The AFP Modernization Program would run for fifteen (15) years and would provide the AFP an amount of P331 billion, with an initial budget of P50 billion pesos for the first five years, to upgrade its capabilities.

However, of the expected P331 billion funding for the AFP modernization, only P35 billion was released to the AFP after 15 years for the capability upgrade program of the AFP. The Aquino administration provided an additional P16.927 billion for the same purpose.

From this allocated amount, 18 projects worth P4.34 billion were completed, including the acquisition of the BRP Gregorio Del Pilar, the acquisition of eight (8) brand new helicopters, and the provision of additional allowance for our soldiers.

It is quite evident that the lack of funds doomed the successful implementation of the modernization program of the AFP. As I have pointed out earlier, the legislature appropriated only P35 billion or 10.02% of the supposed P331.6 billion to fund the program.

Of course the AFP is not blameless for the poor implementation of the AFP Modernization Program. Auditors from COA pointed out that there was slow decision-making on some aspects of the modernization program. Also, there were a lack of personnel dedicated to the administration and management of the program leading to poor implementation of the AFP modernization. Furthermore, the present procurement system and the reported corruption of some officials resulted to delays in the acquisition of military equipment.

In 2012, former President Benigno Aquino III signed into law Republic Act No. 10349 or the revised Armed Forces of the Philippines modernization Act. It amended RA 7898 and extends the military modernization program for another fifteen (15) years to boost the AFP’s capability  as it aimed to shift from internal security operations to external defense.

The law projects to allocate a budget of P75 billion for the first five years of the revised modernization law. It also institutionalizes the defense system of management (DSOM), which incorporates a collegial and collaborative planning and decision-making process by senior defense and military leaders.

The passage of two modernization laws for the AFP acknowledges the country’s need to modernize the AFP. The President has expressed his commitment into building a strong and credible AFP. We, in Congress, could make this dream come true by pursuing concrete legislative actions by amending certain laws and providing the AFP the necessary budgetary support to upgrade and significantly improve their capability.

VI. Recommendations

I would like to propose a number of recommendations in order for us to achieve and realize our aspiration of having a strong and credible Armed Forces:

  • Increase our defense spending to at least 2% of our GDP. This will amount to around P 350B – P 400B a year until the end of the term of the President. At least P 200B or 50% of the total proposed budget should be dedicated to the modernization program of the AFP. As I have stated earlier, only around P 25B or 13% of the proposed budget is allocated for the modernization program of the AFP. This will make our armed forces at par with our ASEAN counterparts.

 

  • We should clarify the delineation of roles between the AFP and the PNP. It is high time for us to revisit Republic Act No. 8551 or the “Philippine National Police Reform and Reorganisation Act of 1998” specifically Section 3 which places the PNP only in a supporting role to AFP when it comes to suppression of insurgency. A transition mechanism must be put in place to capacitate the PNP to take on the ISO role while the AFP slowly focuses on its territorial defense mandate.

 

  • The current administration has already released its National Security Policy. I hope that this will be translated to a clear National Security Strategy. We, high officials of government, should also have a renewed appreciation of these documents. The National Security Policy (NSP), as per the NSC, is a document which contains the statement of principles that sets the strategic policy goals and objectives of the administration in order to attain the state or condition wherein the national interests of the Philippines, the well-being of its people and institutions; and its sovereignty and territorial integrity are protected and enhanced. While the National Security Strategy (NSS) lays down in clear terms how to achieve our national security objectives within our available means. The NSS provides cohesion with regard the programs implemented by the government in advancing the national interest. The National Defense Strategy and the National Military Strategy form part of the NSS and guide us here in Congress with regard the programs of the Defense Department that are in line with the stated capabilities that need to be developed.

 

  • It is high time for the Congress to review the provisions of RA 9184 or the Government Procurement Reform Act and RA 10349 or the Revised AFP Modernization law. According to the AFP, some provisions of these laws hamper the timely acquisition of materiels and equipment needed to upgrade the capability of the military. The Defense Department has already conducted a review of the procurement system and we are just waiting for their recommendations to be submitted to Congress.

 

  • Pension System. This is a ticking time bomb. Once and for all, we need to come up with a pension system to unburden our annual budget which is the sole source of the funds for the pension requirements for the uniformed personnel of the country. Without a new law, the government would be constrained in increasing the base pay of our soldiers as it will have an effect of increasing the base pay of the retirees. My proposed bill to address this problem still awaits deliberation in the concerned committee in the House.

 

VII. Closing Remarks

Before I end, I just would like to call on the leadership of the Department of National Defense and AFP to conduct a post battle stress debriefing to our soldiers coming from the battlefield particularly from Marawi. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD is something that we often neglect. Hindi ito binibigyan ng pansin kahit and ating mga sundalo ay tahimik lamang na iniinda ito. Nakakalungkot ang sinapit ng isang aktibong sundalo na si PFC Rodilo Bartolome ng 53rd IB na nakadeploy sa Marawi. Siya ay napagkamalan at nabaril ng mga pulis sa Pagadian City. Kung totoo man ang ulat na siya ay balisa, dapat masusing imbestigahan ito ng AFP.

Behind modern equipment are our soldiers. We should make sure that their welfare are being taken care of because the modernization program would amount to nothing with soldiers whose morale is low.

The provision of upgraded equipment combined with the granting of proper services, benefits, and entitlements that our troops and their families rightfully deserve is an appropriate expression of gratitude to the unwavering sacrifices made by the gallant men and women of the AFP.

I urge all of you then my dear colleagues to support our Armed Forces. They are your Armed Forces.

Panghuli, nais kong saluduhan at pasalamatan ang lahat ng mga sundalong nagsilbi sa ating bayan mula sa ating mga ninuno na naghimagsik laban sa pananakop ng mga dayuhan hanggang sa kasalukuyang henerasyon. Kayo ay mga bayani na di dapat kalimutan.

Maraming salamat po Mr. Speaker. Magandang Hapon po sa ating lahat.

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