With a very small defense budget, PH needs alliance with neighbors to protect territory from Chinese incursion

Published November 13, 2019, 9:30 PM

by Ellalyn De Vera & Richa Noriega

By Vanne Elaine Terrazola

The Philippines’ defense department should consider coordinating with its counterparts in countries within Southeast Asia and its other allies to protect its territory from China’s incursions.

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph G. Recto (Ali Vicoy / MANILA BULLETIN FILE PHOTO)
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph G. Recto

This was the point raised by Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto during his interpellation Wednesday on the Department of National Defense’s (DND) allocation in the P4.1-trillion proposed national budget for 2020.

Recto was asking Sen. Panfilo Lacson, Senate Finance committee vice chairman and sponsor of the DND’s proposed 2020 budget, on how much the government is spending for defense, noting that it should be at least two percent of the country’s gross domestic product.

Lacson, who was beside Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, said the Philippines was trailing behind most of its Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) neighbors in terms of defense expenditures.

“Nagbago na pala, Mr. President, No. 6 na tayo. Malaysia overtook us. This is as of this year, 2019,” Lacson said, saying the Philippines was ranked fifth previously.

“If we added all the budget of all the ASEAN countries for our defense in the regions, and you include Australia, Japan and Korea, wouldn’t that be more or less equivalent to the China spending for defense?” Recto asked.

Lacson said it could be “possible”, despite noting China’s allocation for its military forces is still much larger than all the funds of ASEAN countries combined.

“So you’re point is let [us]band together with our ASEAN neighbors including Japan,” Lacson told Recto.

“That is the point,” the Senate leader replied.

Sen. Francis Tolentino, in his interpellation earlier, said China has the highest defense outlay with $177.49 billion.

Tolentino had appealed for an increase in the DND budget to prevent incursions by China and its ships from sailing the Philippines’ waters without authorization.

Lacson said the government spent some P197 billion last year for the modernization of the Armed Forces of Philippines.

He rued the “problem” with the national policy overlooking, for example, the importance of research and development (R&D).

“We took a look, (we are) No. 54 tayo sa (in the) Global Index, our R & D is a pitiful 3.9 percent of the entire budget.”

“Paano tayo mag-advance in this department kung nilalagak na pondo ng gobyerno for R and D is 3.9 percent of the entire budget (How will we advance in this department if the fund we gave for R&D is only 3.9 percent of the entire budget)?” he lamented.

The DND and its attached agencies, for 2020, was allocated with a P191.3-billion budget, which is four percent of the P4.1-trillion government spending plan.