The price AFP needs to pay to become ‘heavyweight’ military
MANILA, Philippines–What will it take for the “lightweight” Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to become a “heavyweight” and stand up to nations that are bullying the Philippines? Money. Lots of it.
General Gregorio Catapang, AFP Chief of Staff, said Friday following a Senate hearing of the Department of National Defense’s (DND) budget that nearly P300 billion will be needed over at least a decade for the AFP’s modernization program.
He described the modernization program as being divided into three “horizons.” The first, which costs P85 billion, will help the Philippines achieve a “minimum credible defense posture” in protecting the country’s territory.
“The second horizon is another P85-P100 billion which will take six years, while the third horizon is P100-P125 billion and another six years for military hardware and also bases development,” Catapang told reporters in an ambush interview.
“We can think of it like boxing where the first horizon is the bantamweight, then the second horizon is the middleweight, and eventually the third horizon is heavyweight,” he said.
They had initially asked for P40 billion for modernization but were given only around P30 billion, Catapang said.
During the hearing, Senator Loren Legarda asked Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin how the military was ensuring the security and integrity of the Philippine territory given the reduction of their budget.
“Right now we rely only on what we have,” Gazmin said. The AFP recently was able to acquire two ships, the BRP Gregorio del Pilar and the BRP Ramon Alcaraz, from the United States coast guard.
Legarda also asked how the AFP was monitoring and countering China’s reclamation activities and expansionist policy in the South China Sea despite lack of funds.
Gazmin said, “We were given specific instructions by President Benigno Aquino III not to disturb the status quo. We do have funds for the improvement of Pagasa airport but this is now held in abeyance because of the case we have filed in [the international arbitration court].”
“We have limited capability in monitoring but because of our friendly relations with some countries, we are provided information [in the West Philippine Sea],” he said.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) previously said that China has an “overwhelming presence” in the South China Sea and has, on many occasions, used force to turn away Filipino fishermen from Scarborough Shoal and Navy personnel from Ayungin Shoal.
The Philippines has challenged China’s nine-dash line claim by filing an arbitration case before the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea. China refuses to participate in the case insisting on “bilateral talks” on the basis of “historical facts.”
China is conducting massive land reclamation projects in several reefs in the Spratly Islands which are widely regarded as precursors to the construction of military bases.