MANILA, Philippines—President Benigno Aquino III on Friday outlined the role in a democratic society of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on its 77th founding anniversary: “defend the nation and serve only one Boss—the people, nothing else.”
In a speech in Filipino at Camp Aguinaldo, Mr. Aquino noted that the AFP on his watch had brought back “discipline, dedication and loyalty to flag and country.”
This, the President pointed out, “mirrored our determination to enlist soldiers who will continue to fulfill the mandate of the AFP.”
“Preserve the long tradition of honor, integrity and service of the armed forces,” he said. “Don’t stray from the straight path, remain as allies and refuge of the needy, remain as heroes and saviors of the people.”
The President said he expected new and modern military hardware with P75 billion in modernization fund for the next five years,after he signed on Dec. 11 the New AFP Modernization Act.
He said the AFP’s founding anniversary this year was “more meaningful” because of this act that would create a “stronger and more reliable” military force.
However, he said that soldiers would not only be indispensable in search, rescue and relief operations during calamities. Their role would span from disaster preparedness to response to post-disaster rehabilitation, he said.
The President also said he expected the “spread of peace” to once war-torn areas with the signing of the framework agreement on Bangsamoro with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front to end the 40-year rebellion in Mindanao.
“We are aware of the huge role to be performed by the AFP in managing the transition of this peace initiative,” Mr. Aquino said, referring to the creation of an autonomous Bangsamoro territory to replace the present Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
Although threats from “bad elements” lurked in the horizon, the country was relatively peaceful the past year, said the President.
He cited a 23 percent decrease in incidents related to the communist insurgency, one of the major security threats in the country today. He said the AFP conducted 200 tactical operations against insurgents, made 115 arrests and caused the surrender of 220 guerrillas.
No longer a ‘pitiful cowboy’
He vowed that the troops would not return to barracks “so long as there are families caught in these senseless crossfire.”
“Because of your sacrifices, you can count on the continued support of the government and the people. Since the needs of the troops are taken care of immensely, I will not wonder if next year the AFP will be accused of being ‘spoiled’ in treading the straight path,” he said to applause from the top brass seated at the grandstand.
“From a ‘pitiful cowboy,’ we are molding the AFP into a more modern and reliable defense force,” he said, citing the purchase of refurbished Hamilton-class cutters renamed BRP del Pilar and BRP Alcaraz (to be delivered soon) and the acquisition of locally made landing craft utility, BRP Tagbanua, among others.
As for the Air Force, its infamy as “all air but no force” would come to an end, he said.
“Prepare the tarmac for new planes that will take to the skies,” he said.
“Gone are the days when the Navy troops were more worried about the tetanus from rusty ships than foreign invaders. Prepare the ports for the modern and quality ships of the Navy that will defend our coast. It’s time to retire the antique trucks of the Army; not for long, you will ride in faster and newer tanks, trucks and ambulances,” he said.
“Of course, you will use quality weapons and force protection equipment to take Filipinos out of harm’s way,” he said.