By Charissa Luci-Atienza
Leyte Representative-elect Martin Romualdez cited Thursday the need for the incoming 18th Congress to prioritize the allocation of more budget for the full implementation of the Armed Forces’ modernization program and welfare initiatives for the families of soldiers who fight against terrorists and extremists.
He made the call as he joined President Duterte’s visit late Wednesday afternoon to the Philippine Army’s 8th Infantry Division in Camp Gen. Vicente Lukban in Catbalogan City, Samar, where nine soldiers wounded-in-action were accorded with medals for their gallantry.
“I was asked to join President Duterte in his working visit to the military camp in Samar and I saw the urgent need for Congress to act on the plight of our men and women in the battlefront,” Romualdez, a lawyer and president of the Philippine Constitution Association (Philconsa), said in a statement.
“We need to ensure that the AFP modernization program is on-track so that government troops would continue to serve the nation and protect the country from all threats,” Romualdez, an adopted honorary member of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Sambisig class of 1991, said.
He vowed to consult with top military officials on the much-needed measures to address the concerns of soldiers and their families.
Joining President Duterte and Romualdez during the military camp visit were newly-elected Sen. Bong Go and Presidential Adviser for the Visayas Michael Dino.
Romualdez, who served as House Independent Bloc leader of the previous 16th Congress, hailed President Duterte’s effort to provide P500 million in medical assistance for the troops in the battlefield. He also cited the President for taking care of the immediate families of the wounded soldiers.
“The President has shown, consistently, his concern for our soldiers in the battlefront. It is time for legislators to complement this presidential concern by providing the budget needed to uplift the living condition of our troops,” he said.
Romualdez, one of the frontrunners in the speakership race, said Congress should ensure the funding for the fast-tracking of the second phase of the Philippine military modernization plan which covers the period 2018 to 2022.
For the second phase, an amount of P125 billion should be earmarked for the acquisition of more equipment for external defense missions, including helicopters, fighter aircraft, multi-role fighters, and missile and radar systems, he noted.
The first phase of the AFP modernization plan, which covered the years 2013 to 2017, was allocated at least P85 billion. It involved the acquisition of assets including combat utility and attack helicopters, frigates, armored vehicles, rifles, and cargo and transport aircraft.
Romualdez expressed his gratitude to President Duterte for giving him the rare opportunity to see first-hand the urgent problems that need to be addressed by the incoming 18th Congress.
“I thank the President for the opportunity to see up close the problems that need an immediate solution. Working with him in seeking a solution to the country’s problems is great working experience. For that, I will be eternally grateful,” he said.
Last week, Romualdez joined President Duterte in the latter’s surprise visit to the NAIA, where the Chief Executive issued directives to ease congestion at the country’s premier airport.
Personally hearing President Duterte’s instructions, he sought multi-partisan congressional support in securing additional funding for the rehabilitation and upgrade of all vital airports in the country.