THE controversial P1.2-billion UH-1 helicopter project that a whistleblower exposed through The Manila Times and is now the subject of a Senate blue ribbon investigation was key in exposing infirmities in the procurement process of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), a senator said on Thursday.
According to Francis Escudero, the AFP procurement process is “too supplier-driven” and has relied heavily on suppliers rather than the demand or needs of the military in order to improve its performance.
He said the AFP lacked the technical expertise to determine the most sophisticated military vehicles and equipment on the market.
“The AFP has been relying more heavily on suppliers for everything they need and most of the time it is the one adjusting to the specifications of the suppliers,” the senator pointed out
Escudero, chairman of the Senate finance committee, said flaws in the process are also the reason why improvements within the AFP are “hardly felt” despite the billions of pesos poured into the military modernization program over the past decade.
The senator noted that of the P68 billion spent for the costly AFP modernization program since 1999, much-needed and long-overdue upgrades of the country’s Armed Forces remain elusive.
“Is it just me, or does anyone else notice that the AFP has shown hardly any improvement since the ambitious AFP modernization program began in the 1990s?” Escudero asked, saying he cannot even see improvements in vehicles, uniforms and equipment used by soldiers.
It is for this reason, he said, why the Senate initiated a probe of implementation of the program aimed at upgrading the AFP, including the allegedly irregular acquisitions of military equipment and weapons system.
The Department of National Defense (DND), which exercises supervision and control over the AFP, came under fire for the purchase of 21 refurbished UH-1 helicopters worth P1.2 billion, which was revealed by the whistleblower, Rhodora Alvarez.
The Manila Times ran a series of articles about the controversial deal based on Alvarez’s revelation and documents she provided.
“There were allegations the choppers, said to be older than the incumbent senior military officers, cannot be used and have obsolete parts, and their purchase violated certain provisions of the country’s procurement law,” Escudero said.
The big-ticket project was also supposedly tailor-made for a particular supplier in exchange for kickbacks.
“The AFP procurement procedures have to be adjusted to give the end users much bigger role during the entire process.” He added.
Republic Act (RA) 7898 or the AFP Modernization Act was first enacte into law in 1995 under the leadership of then-President Fidel Ramos, a former Armed Forces chief of staff and Defense secretary, who aimed at modernizing all branches of the AFP.
The funding for the AFP modernization, however, was halted because of the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s and was later neglected by succeeding administrations until the law expired in 2010.
Congress then amended RA 7898 in 2012 and extended it for another 15 years with an initial budget of P75 billion for the first five years.