TWO phrases are often connected with former President Fidel V. Ramos: leapfrog and pole vault. Leapfrog was used to describe a development plan to be adopted and pursued in order to be on a par with Asean then. Pole vault was launched as a supposed legacy plan, continuing what Ramos had started: “The step-by-step mobilization, consolidation and application of Filipino virtues and talents is a generational process to institutionalize a culture of excellence among our people and facilitate our attainment of global competitiveness. The desired outcome of a better Philippine future is aptly represented by the Olympic motto: “Citius, Altius, Fortius,” meaning “swifter, higher, stronger.”
Pole vault is a sport in which an athlete jumps over an obstacle with the aid of a pole. FVR stated: “These goals are aimed at empowering the Filipino people to pole-vault over the highest of all bars, thus winning the gold medal among the numerous developing nations in attaining first world status.” It was a vision not just of FVR’s original “Philippines 2000” but beyond.
Republic Act 7898, or the AFP Modernization Act, was signed into law on February 23, 1995 by FVR, aimed at modernizing all the branches of the AFP—the Air Force, Navy and Army. The law was supposed to last for 15 years or until 2010. It had an initial budget of P50 billion for the first five years but was halted because of the 1997 Asian financial crisis. Funding for the program was neglected by succeeding administrations until the law expired in 2010. Meanwhile, Fort Bonifacio became a booming city and Taguig pole-vaulted into what is now the richest city in the country.
Republic Act10349, signed into law on December 11, 2012, amended RA 7898, and extended the AFP modernization program for another 15 years, or until 2027, providing an initial budget of P75 billion for the first five years. The law was aimed at building a defense system capable of addressing the threats at the time connected with the South China Sea disputes.
One of the lessons that we ought to learn from Marawi is that our AFP is still not where we want it to be in terms of equipment, systems and the like. Our soldiers are more professional now but they remain ill-equipped. When you have a Secretary of Defense admitting that we ran out of “precision-guided missiles,” thus causing the death of 10 and the wounding of 8 of the troops, that highlights the gravity of the situation.
AFP Chief of Staff Alexander B. Yano said the “capability gap is too big that ordinary stop-gap measures will no longer make a dent.” Taking up the pole-vault analogy, he said that the AFP is not even capable of “normal high jump.” The Philippines’ percentage of GDP expense on defense is one of the lowest in Asean, “and yet we are confronting active insurgency/internal threats”. Before honest-to-goodness modernization can be pursued, the Philippine military has to catch up and narrow the capability gap, he said. “We need a quantum leap at the start,” he said.
With PRRD at the helm, we might just have a warrior who will overhaul the system, get the AFP modernization funded not by promises but actual capital infusion year-to-year. Especially as he announced right off the bat that he does not like secondhand, used or about-to-be-retired equipment and systems. Yes, former President Noynoy Aquino did wonders with actual purchases, but most of these were reconditioned, repainted, refurbished or contingent on the purchase of a system that’s why you can’t use the air assets, etc.
A combination of funding strategies have been suggested, from an increase in the percentage of GDP for defense outlay to PPP to securing allocation from Pagcor, PCSO, etc. But if we need an immediate action to break the inertia, certainly pork that is wasted for personal gain is better used for country and flag. We are talking of approximately P50 billion sans insertions a year. For two years that would account for a P100 billion shot in the arm for our AFP.
If soldiers are offering their lives for the protection of the country and its citizens, would it be too much to ask legislators to give up their pork? Taxpayers’ money, which funds the pork of legislators, should be used to enable our AFP to catch up with our neighbors. Funding for AFP modernization should be a line item in the annual budget.
Legislators insist that there is no more pork in the General Appropriations Act (GAA). This is not true because what was “reformed” was only the timing and process of identifying projects. Four departments have within their budgets earmarks for legislators. A legislator has in fact gone around saying that they “worked for that sum and that they have a right to use it.”
A tax revolt for our soldiers is one alternative that we taxpayers might consider to send the message that the kidnapping of the AFP modernization fund must stop. Soldiers fight for us. The least we can do is ensure that they have the wherewithal to win.
Finally, to the representatives of the people: When you send a soldier to start a war, check if he can come out of it alive, your honors. Give up your pork for a soldier.