Why we need to accelerate military modernization

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No Filipino should take the terrorist attack on Marawi City, Lanao del Sur, lightly, with thousands of families displaced, hundreds of lives lost, and a city once vibrant with economic activities laid in ruins.

In today’s world, problems like this can happen in any country, but the Philippines is lucky for having a decisive president, who did not dilly-dally, but acted immediately to respond to the siege.

It scares me to think what would have happened if we had another chief executive, someone who is easily driven to doubt any move he would take, as commander-in-chief of the armed forces and leader of the whole nation, in Malacañang when members of the Maute group attacked Marawi last May 23.

President Rodrigo Duterte, while visiting Russia in another mission to pursue his administration’s independent foreign policy, declared martial law in Mindanao to mobilize the armed forces and the police and frustrate the Maute group’s goal of spreading terror and gaining recognition from the Islamic State of Syria and Libya (ISIS), which is being driven out of the Middle East.

With President Duterte, who has been travelling as close as possible to the scene of the fighting, at the helm, I have great hope that Marawi City will soon be freed and its residents allowed to return to rebuild their homes, their businesses and their lives.

I cannot but appreciate the President’s public apology to the Marawi people, and his promise to help rebuilt the city – it was another reflection of the humble and compassionate nature of the man we put in Malacanang.

Having said that, government leaders have recognized the need to modernize the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and improve its capability to confront threats to national security. That is why we have The Armed Forces Modernization Act.

I believe the Marawi siege is a compelling reason to speed up the modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). The armed forces modernization law was enacted three years ago, in 2013, yet the Philippine military remains one of Asia’s weakest, according to the online The Diplomat.

In an article published last March 17, Prashanth Parameswaran noted that while the country faces both internal and external challenges to security, it spends only about 1 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on defense, compared to the average of more than 2 percent of GDP for other Southeast Asian countries.

This may have been a factor behind the reported efforts of the Maute group to make Marawi the ISIS hub in Southeast Asia. US lawmakers have proposed increasing American assistance to the Philippines to defeat the terrorists and prevent ISIS from establishing a foothold in Southeast Asia.

Last December 2016, President Duterte signed into law the country’s P3.35-trillion national budget for 2017, which included P137.2 billion for the Department of National Defense (DND).

The President said his administration would pursue the armed forces modernization program with the maintenance and acquisition of major equipment, aircraft and ammunition.

The AFP has also announced a recruitment program to expand its troop strength. For this year, the AFP plans to recruit a total of 13,910 new soldiers, most of them will fill up the Army infantry, cavalry and artillery units, while others will fill up the engineering, communications, logistics, and other administrative functions of the Army.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana recognizes the need to further increase the military’s budget, which he says has been underfunded for the past 50 years. The DND’s budget for 2017 is significantly higher than the P117.5 billion appropriated for 2016, but is still equivalent to about 1 percent of GDP.

Parameswaran, in another article, cited Lorenzana as saying he would like to see an increase in the DND’s budget to about 2.4 percent to 2.5 percent of GDP, or more than twice the current funding.

We really need to strengthen the military, including the recruitment of more soldiers and acquisition of modern equipment, and this should be reflected in next year’s budget.

If need be, based on what is happening now in Marawi and other areas of Mindanao, the government should look at adopting a supplemental budget to implement a radical modernization of the security forces, including the national police.

Based on latest reports, the military has said it was close to eliminating the terrorists from Marawi and gaining full control of the city. Accelerating the modernization program should help ensure that terrorists would not be able to mount another siege as they did in Marawi.

(For /feedback e-mail to: mbv.secretariat@gmail.com or visit www.mannyvillar.com.ph)



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