By Manny Villar
Several news outlets have reported President Rodrigo Roa Duterte’s vow to buy brand new military equipment for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). He was quoted as saying that instead of relying on second-hand weapons from the United States, he wanted to make sure that the military is best equipped to protect our republic.
It should not escape our observation, of course, that as the Commander-in-Chief, Duterte made the remark as our soldiers continue to battle local terror groups in Marawi City.
He promised to increase his administration’s military spending in order to acquire “new and modern weapons systems… such as planes, boats, drones and guns.” For instance, the President said that he will acquire additional 12 fighter jets” for the country’s air force.
This pronouncement by the President should also be understood in the context of his renewed push to strengthen relations with China and Russia.
With a military agreement with Russia currently in the works, it is very likely that an arms deal will be completed probably before the visit to Manila in November by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to attend the ASEAN summit.
I have always believed in the need to modernize our armed forces. When I was still in public service and when I ran for the presidency, I insisted on including military modernization in the platform of the Nacionalista Party.
At that time, I lamented the fact that the defense budget was only for patching up the AFP’s antiquated land, air and water assets. I believed then, as I believe now that we should allocate resources for the purchase of the basic needs of soldiers in the field like combat boots, combat rations and ammunition.”
Even as a candidate in 2010, I urged the government to explore other sources of military hardware, “and not just look at that giant arms mall that is the United States.”
I am delighted that President Duterte has a clear and serious plan to implement the modernization of the Armed Forces.
In these changing times, the military’s role has also changed. While a bulk of its responsibilities focus on protecting the nation’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, our AFP has also experienced an expansion in its responsibilities.
The most important shift is its role in disaster response. As we have experienced in past disasters, a military with modern capabilities can help tremendously in responding to disasters. It can help in, prepositioning on relief goods, evacuation of the population before a disaster, search and rescue operations, as well as rebuilding communities after disasters.
For our military to be able to accomplish this, they need better communications equipment, especially when a powerful typhoon or an earthquake disables traditional communications networks. They need better transport vehicles — land, water and air — to be able to provide support for disaster response teams on the ground.
Our military has also joined international peacekeeping missions. I remember that as early as 2004, we have been sending troops in Haiti to join the United Nations peacekeeping mission there.
For these reasons, the plan of the President is not only important but very timely as the Philippines’ foreign policy undergoes changes under his administration and as our country responds to the ever-changing global situation.
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