Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on Monday urged the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to expedite the AFP modernization program and beef up the country’s defense and security mechanism to effectively protect the West Philippine Sea against foreign intrusions.
Drilon noted that the AFP has been sluggish in implementing the military’s modernization program and is lagging behind in terms of equipment and assets. The AFP’s allocation for the modernization program next year is at P38-billion.
“Our absorptive capacity can stand improvement. We keep on saying that our AFP lags behind, particularly in terms of equipment and assets compared to other countries. Maybe we should look at our abilities to disburse funds under this program,” Drilon told Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana during the Senate’s hearing on the P209.1-billion budget of the Department of National Defense for 2021.
The senator noted that only P16-billion out of P25-billion in the 2019 General Appropriations Act (GAA) were disbursed. The AFP failed to implement the P9.4-billion worth of projects which were remitted back to the National Treasury pursuant to the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act or Bayanihan 1.
The AFP also returned P8.02-billion from the 2020 GAA for COVID-19 response. The total amount of project the AFP failed to implement was P17.4-billion and these were realigned for the COVID-19 response.
“For 2019, out of P25-billion you have disbursed about P16-billion leaving a balance of P9.4-billion. If we cannot disburse P25-billion in 2019, the P38-billion looks like a challenge to me,” Drilon noted.
“The AFP modernization program is moving at a snail’s pace. This is unacceptable and this affects our ability to protect our interests in the West Philippine Sea,” he further said.
The lawmaker said it is important to consider the absorptive capacity of the AFP so that Congress can “determine if the AFP will indeed be able to obligate all of the funds next year.”
During the hearing, AFP Chief of Staff Gilbert Gapay appealed to the Senate Finance subcommittee chaired by Sen. Panfilo Lacson to augment the AFP’s proposed budget for next year, saying they proposed a higher budget for next year but “around more than P115-billion was not considered” by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).
“We proposed a higher budget for 2021 and around more than P115-billion was not considered and the bulk of this were supposed to be intended for our modernization,” Gapay told Sen. Risa HOntiveros who inquired about the AFP’s budget.
“So, we are now proposing the priority additional P28-billion of the P115-billion not considered to address pressing requirements of the Armed Forces to include the P9-billion modernization fund for 2019 which was recouped by the national government to help in our COVID-19 response and other pressing requirements of the army, air force, navy, your honor,” the AFP chief further said. [Hannah L. Torregoza]