An extra P8 billion has been allotted to for military modernization in the proposed 2021 national government budget due to external threats.
“Considering the foreign threats we are facing in the West Philippine Sea, we are assuring the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) of sustained funding support for its modernization projects, despite the coronavirus pandemic,” Deputy Speaker and Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel said Tuesday.
Meanwhile, public budget watchdog Social Watch Philippines (SWP) has expressed willingness to participate in the budget legislation process, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said.
This was in response to Cayetano's call for the public to involve themselves directly in the hearings for the P4.5-trillion 2021 General Appropriations Bill (GAB).
In the proposed 2021 national budget, Pimentel said the AFP modernization program is getting P33 billion in fresh funding, or P8 billion higher than the usual P25-billion annual allocation.
The military modernization program was given P25 billion in the 2020 national government budget, but the Department of National Defense (DND) returned P9.4 billion in “unobligated (program) funds” to the National Treasury to help the government’s fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
Unobligated funds are appropriations that remain uncommitted by contract.
Thus, Pimentel said, military modernization will be given a higher budger “to restore the bulk of (program) funds earlier 'repurposed' for the fight against COVID-19.”
Pimentel is a staunch backer of the Visiting Forces Agreement between the Philippines and the United States. The accord is in support of the Mutual Defense Treaty between the two countries.
In a recent letter to Cayetano, SWP Co-Convenor Rene Raya thanked the Speaker for committing to promote people’s direct participation in the budget process and said group is willing to contribute its inputs and recommendations.
Raya recalled that Cayetano’s congressional office welcomed SWP’s intervention in 2006 and provided space for open discussion and analysis of the proposed national government budget among his colleagues in the minority bloc.
"That simple act of being open to citizens input back then provided inspiration for us to plod along and continue the work," he said.
Raya said SWP has since grown into a network of over a hundred civil society organizations that monitors the implementation of government commitments to social development.
Pimentel also has bill seeking to reinforce the military by giving the AFP Chief of Staff a more stable 36-month tour of duty.
The military has acquired multiple new weapons systems and capabilities pursuant to the Revised 15-year AFP Modernization Program established by law in 2013.
The latest acquisitions include two guided-missile warships worth a combined P16 billion for the Navy.
The frigates BRP Jose Rizal and BRP Antonio Luna are capable of launching missiles against hostile surface warships and aircraft as well as torpedoes against underwater targets.
Built by South Korea’s Hyundai Heavy Industries Co. Ltd., the BRP Jose Rizal was put into service in July, while the BRP Antonio Luna is due for delivery this month.
The Navy also plans to acquire two heavier warships – missile-armed corvettes – worth a total of P30 billion. Last month, the DND also signed the contract for the Philippine Air Force’s acquisition of a P5.5-billion Air Surveillance Radar System (ASRS) from Japan’s Mitsubishi Electric Corp.