FROM the moment that President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office, he has cast his eye on a better and stronger armed forces.
In August this year, the Commander-in-Chief asked Congress to allot a budget for the hiring of 20,000 soldiers, a move welcomed by the military.
Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla Jr., spokesman of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said the country should show to the world that the AFP is not a “weakling.”
“Hindi naman puwedeng lalamya-lamya tayo. Kailangan nating ipakita sa iba na malakas tayo. (We cannot afford to look like weakling. We need to show to other countries that we are strong),” he said.
Aside from hiring more soldiers, Padilla said the military will acquire brand new frigates, corvets, submarines, multi-roll fighters and long-range patrol aircraft that will be used “to guard our maritime interests and resources.”
In keeping with its goal to modernize, the military will also acquire additional equipment for its ground troops, including light tanks, force protection equipment and armored support carriers.
“[These] are intended to enhance the Philippine Army’s capability to continue to address internal security problems and the threat of terrorism,” Padilla said.
He added that the AFP had followed its Transformation Roadmap that seeks to improve the military’s capabilities. The roadmap embraces three “horizons” — the first seeks to address the country’s internal problems, the second involves acquisition of more equipment and the third deals with strengthening defense capabilities.
Padilla said China, Russia and the US had expressed willingness to help the military. Recently, Beijing turned over hundreds of firearms for troopers while Russia had invited Philippine officials to inspect their military facilities and choose what equipment the AFP may need.
“Most of these countries mentioned have provided us assistance one way or another in matters of military equipment on counter terrorism,” he said.
“For the US, however, they have done more than that besides counter-terrorism. They have provided us equipment from their Excess Defense Articles Program,” he added.
Padilla said the Philippines is also expecting military assistance from Australia, Japan and South Korea.
In September, Australian Defense Minister Marise Payne said the Australian Defense Force will deploy troops in the Philippines to train Filipino soldiers on counter-terrorism amid the crisis in Marawi City.
“We envision the AFP to be a strong, capable and credible Armed Forces by 2028,” Padilla said.
The Department of National Defense stressed the need to fast-track the modernization of the military.
ArsenioAndolong, spokesman of the Defense department, said the AFP is now in the second horizon of the modernization program.
“We need more personal equipment for the individual soldiers, such as force protection equipment and firearms, as well as more land, air, and sea assets for internal security operations and external defense,” Andolong told The Manila Times.
He cited the Philippine Defense Transformation Roadmap 2028 of the DND whose goal is to strengthen the external defense capabilities of the military.
“This transition, however, is being hampered by the continued and persistent internal threats posed by terrorists and other armed groups, thus, the government reprioritized the procurement of equipment, supply and materiel that would enhance our troops’ capability on internal security operations,” Andolong said.
“Nonetheless, we can confidently say that the AFP is definitely stronger now than it was a decade ago,” he noted.
But the DND official admitted that transforming the military into a more potent force will be costly.
“Countries such as China, Russia and the United States can help the Philippines achieve this as these countries are very advanced in terms of military technology. We can always acquire equipment from them, following our procurement laws and existing defense acquisition mechanisms,” he said.
“In addition, we can also have people-to-people exchanges with these countries for joint trainings/drills to enhance interoperability, exchange of best practices and updating of doctrines in key areas like humanitarian assistance and disaster response (HADR), and counter-terrorism,” he added.
Andolong disclosed that Manila has entered into various memoranda of agreement and understanding and defense cooperation programs with other countries “that serve as framework for defense acquisition and exchange of personnel.
“Following the government’s independent foreign policy, the Philippines has opened its doors to all nations for cooperation in matters of shared concerns,” he explained.
“We welcome any help that we can get from our friends and allies as we endeavor to modernize the AFP and increase our capability to respond to various threats,” he added.
The DND is also eyeing stronger bilateral and multilateral relations with members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) through its Defense Ministers Meeting that will take place on October 23 to 24 in Clark, Pampanga.
“With our increased international defense and security engagements (IDSE), we hope to foster the development of mechanisms that will greatly help us in future deals and engagements in line with our modernization program and capability development,” Andolong said.