FORMER president and now Manila Mayor Joseph “Erap” Estrada caused delay in implementation of the first Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) modernization law when he diverted P5.4 billion in seed money intended for makeover of the military to wage an all-out war against the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), according to a former Cabinet member.
Rafael Alunan 3rd, who served as Interior secretary under the Ramos administration, on Monday disclosed that the P5.4 billion was withdrawn by then-Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno in several tranches at a time when there was a running conflict with the MNLF
“The P5.4 billion was used by Erap in 2000 to wage a war against the MNLF, and there is a paper trail to show that [Diokno] withdrew the P5.4 billion in several tranches within a period when war was being waged against the MNLF,” Alunan told the weekly Kapihan sa Manila Hotel forum.
Former President Fidel Ramos initiated the original modernization law or Republic Act (RA) 7898, which was signed in 1995.
Alunan explained that the Ramos administration had planned to sell Fort Bonifacio but was pushed back by the Asian financial crisis.
“So what he [Ramos] did, he seeded the modernization fund with P5.4 billion, which was reported to incoming President Estrada in Camp Aguinaldo [in Quezon City]a few weeks before he [Estrada] assumed office,” he said.
Alunan added that since then, especially during the time of then-president and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, not enough effort was undertaken to beef up the AFP, Philippine Coast Guard and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.
But unlike the Estrada and Arroyo administrations, he pointed out, President Benigno Aquino 3rd initiated actions when the disputed Scarborough Shoal off the coast of Zambales was taken by China and initiated as well the passage of RA 10349 or the New AFP Modernization Act, which was signed into law on December 11, 2012.
RA 10349 extended the modernization law by another 15 years and provided a P75-billion budget for the first five years of implementation or until 2017.
Funding would come from the yearly General Appropriations Act and in part from sale or lease of military camps as provided under the Bases Conversion Act.
Building a deterrent takes time and a lot of money, Alunan said, adding that in order for the country to build a credible defense, “we needed some like $2 billion a year or perhaps 10 to 15 years to reach that goal of credible deterrence.”
According to him, the Philippines, in the meantime, remains very vulnerable against an increasingly hostile China, which has occupied several of the disputed islands in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea).
He said timely declaration by the Supreme Court that the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) is constitutional has boosted ongoing efforts to professionalize and modernize the AFP.
“At a time when our backs are against the wall, EDCA is welcome because [we]need EDCA to help in the professionalization and modernization of the AFP, particularly in the area of inter-operability because the United States through their interaction will be able to upgrade our capabilities. So that’s a plus factor for us,” Alunan added.
EDCA is a 2014 agreement between the US and the Philippines that seeks to bolster the two countries’ alliance.
It is a supplementary agreement to the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).
EDCA would allow the United States to rotate troops in the country for extended stays and allow them as well to build and operate facilities on Philippine bases, both for Filipino and American soldiers.
It disallows the US though from establishing any permanent military bases.
The agreement also gives Filipino personnel access to American ships and planes.