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Philippine defense secretary admits AFP upgrade plan a dud

Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin on Saturday said the law on the modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines expired in December "with little progress."
Speaking at this year's Philippine Military Academy alumni homecoming, Gazmin said: "RA 7898 (AFP Modernization Act) was signed in December 1996. [This law] was closely tied to the need to maintain our territorial integrity to uphold and safeguard the integrity of our nation."
But the law "ran the full length of its implementing period and expired [in December 2011] without any significant progress being made in its agenda," he said.
Gazmin blamed delays in the release of funds for the programme's poor implementation.
"[But] of the P331 billion(US$8 billion) meant to be allotted for the programme, only P35 billion was released to the AFP after 15 years. And this amount was used for the capability upgrade programme of the AFP for internal operations," he said.
To restore the AFP's primary agenda, the Aquino administration has allocated P16.927 billion "for the express purpose of modernizing the AFP," he said.
"Of this amount, 18 projects worth P4.34 billion were completed, including the acquisition of the BRP Gregorio del Pilar, the country's first Hamilton-class vessel. The good news is we can expect more of these kinds of equipment and vehicles in the coming years," he said.
At least eight brand new helicopters would be acquired, he added.
Gazmin said the government has also increased combat pay by authorizing P260 a month in additional allowance to each soldier.
The government also built 21,800 houses in northern and Central Luzon for soldiers.
Gazmin said the AFP had set up a defense acquisition system, with 138 projects lined up in the next five years and funded by the national budget.
Part of the AFP modernization trust fund would have come from the proceeds of land sold by the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA).
Addressing malpractices
BCDA president Arnel Paciano Casanova, who attended the PMA homecoming as an adopted member of Class 1987, said the agency remitted to the national treasury P2.3 billion in 2011. The agency is in charge of selling or disposing of some military camps.
Gazmin said he was addressing "serious malpractices in our bureaucracy."
"There are still some who refuse to join us in these reforms. Our Philippine Veterans Affairs Office administrator, Ernesto Carolina, has been hard at work ridding the agency of fixers and other unscrupulous individuals who heartlessly victimize our veterans. As a consequence, he has been the subject of a retaliatory harassment case by an employee against whom he had filed an extortion case," he said.
Gazmin did not elaborate. However, he said he continued to support Carolina.
But the AFP is not blameless.
The Commission on Audit has seconded much of Gazmin's remarks in a separate report.
State auditors, however, said the Armed Forces had its own shortcomings that contributed to the programme's poor implementation. There was slow decision-making on some aspects and personnel were lacking for the programme's implementation.
In its 2010 report on the AFP General Headquarters that was released recently, the COA said that 15 years after the modernization programme was established, the AFP had only implemented 55 per cent or 278 projects out of the programmemed 504.
"Over the 15-year implementation period, only 278 or 55 per cent of the 504 AFP modernization projects were completed and the objective of the AFP Modernization programme...was not realized," it said.
Lack of funds
The COA agreed that a major reason for the modernization programme's poor implementation was lack of funds: The legislature appropriated only P35 billion or 10.02 per cent of the P331.6 billion that was supposed to go to the programme. The funds also came late or six years after the programme was established in 1996.
It also said the Department of Budget and Management did not release the special allotment release order (Saro) for all of the funds appropriated. Some of the Saros that were released were delayed, it said.
Aside from funding aspects, the COA also found that the transfer of the lead role on internal security operations to the military contributed to delays. This was because the approved external defense operations priorities were suspended and reprioritized to address internal security concerns.
The AFP itself was also slow to move. Said the COA: "(It) also failed to address matters within its control and which posed obstacles to the modernization programme."
The AFP also has a complex acquisition structure that did not help speed up the process, it added.
The COA said the resolution of several problems was delayed or not addressed. There was also a lack of personnel dedicated to the administration and management of the programme.
The COA recommended that the AFP lobby the legislature for a successor modernization programme. But the AFP should also put in place adequate measures to fast-track the completion of ongoing modernization projects, the auditors added.
By Vincent Cabreza in Manila/Philippine Daily Inquirer | Asia News Network
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