SIGNED into law in 1995, Republic Act (RA) 7998 or the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Modernization Law allocated P331 billion for the acquisition of military equipment to beef up the country’s territorial defense.
Some two years into the law’s implementation, efforts to modernize the AFP were interrupted due to the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis which prompted the government to cutfunding for the program.
These efforts were placed in the backburner until the law, which had a 15-year effectivity, expired in 2010.
On December 11, 2012 former President Benigno Aquino 3rd signed RA 10349 which amended RA 7998 and extended its effectivity for another 15 years.
According to Director Arsenio Andolong of the Department of National Defense’s(DND) Public Affairs Service, from 2000 to 2015, P63.4 billion were released under RA 7898 while P19.1 billion were released under RA 10349for a total of P82.5 billion, a mere 25 percent of the proposed budget.
Andolong, however, pointed out that the AFP’s arsenal still saw significant upgrades.
Under RA 7898, 45 projects amounting to P12.5 billion were completed during the administration of former President Gloria Arroyo, 98 projects worth P10.8 billionwere completed during the administration offormer President Aquino, and two projects funded by the Department of Energy (DOE) worth P3.1 billion were completed.
“These projects under the original AFP Modernization Act include the acquisition of 20 UH-1 completed in 2005; 6,500 units of squad automatic weapon completed in 2008; 651 troop carrier trucks completed in 2009; two multi-purpose attack craft completed in 2009 among others,” said Andolong.
At present he added, there are still 49 ongoing projects under RA 7898 amounting to P26 billion: 15 projects for the Philippine Army; seven projects for the Philippine Air Force; 13 projects for the Philippine Navy; nine projects for the General Headquarters (GHQ)/AFP-Wide Support and Separate Units (AFPWSSU); and five for the Government Arsenal.
Also, under RA 10349, a total of 33 projects amounting to P91 billion are in the pipeline. These include nine projects for the Army, 11 for the Air Force, 10 for the Navy, and three for the GHQ/AFPWSSUs.
These projects are seen as important accomplishments in the continued capability upgrade of the nation’s armed forces, Andolong pointed out.
Certain quarters earlier expressed concern that the modernization may again be neglected during the new administration following President Rodrigo Duterte’s pronouncement that the government will rather focus on internal security operations and will prioritize the purchase of equipment that can be used in addressing internal security threats, particularly the Abu Sayyaf Group.
This, after the President expressed his apparent dislike for the acquisition of 12 FA-50 fighter jets that is part of the AFP modernization. Duterte described it as a “waste of money” even as he noted that fighter jets may have little or no use at all in addressing the insurgency problem.
However, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Ricardo Visaya doused such speculations, saying that territorial defense remains one of the top priorities of the president who is also the commander-in-chief.
The two officials said capability upgrading and the modernization of the AFP will continue as scheduled.
“We have to safeguard our territories against encroachments by other parties,” Lorenzana said.
To date, according to Andolong, the AFP has upgraded all branches of service.
He said that the Philippine Navy before only had one old frigate, the BRP Rajah Humabon, several aging Landing Ship Tanks, Landing Craft Utilities and other small crafts. Now it has two frigates (Gregorio Del Pilar and Ramon Alcaraz) and BRP-Tarlac, a Strategic Sealift Vessel, the Navy’s largest ship which is capable of transporting 500 soldiersas well as house two helicopters.
As for the Air Force, it used to only have two F-27 Fokkers, one C-130, some S-211s and aging OV-10 Broncos.
“Now the Air Force is back in the supersonic age with our two new KAI FA-50 jet aircraft. Two additional new C-130s, three C-295 medium lift aircraft, and new SF-260 basic trainer aircraft were acquired, as well as new Bell 412 combat utility helicopters, UH-1 combat utility helicopters, and Agusta Westland AW-109E combat helicopters,” Andolong said.
The Philippine Army, meanwhile, enjoyed a major upgrade in force protection and night fighting equipment, new radios, and new M4 rifles for the troops, whose equipment needed overhaul.
In addition, the DND official said the Army now has new M113 armored personnel carriers equipped with Remote Control Weapons System as well as new Kia KM450 trucks and military ambulances.
“In the pipeline, the Philippine Navy can look forward to the third Del Pilar-class frigate arriving this year, as well as the second Strategic Sealift Vessel. We hope to acquire more combat, anti-submarine helicopters, and small amphibian vehicles,” said Andolong.
“The Air Force looks forward to receiving the next ten FA-50s next year, as well as more combat helicopters and medium-lift aircraft. The Philippine Army can also expect, among others, a tactical simulation system that will help train troops in combat situations,” he added.