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Another black eye

President Noynoy Aquino’s administration has made it a habit of putting the Philippines in “world’s worst” lists. And soon after the makers of the popular app Waze placed Manila on top of the list of the cities with the worst traffic worldwide, it’s now the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ turn.

The AFP has been adjudged as the sixth-worst army in the world by the US-based, military-themed Web site We Are The Mighty. The site is run by former American servicemen and military enthusiasts and describes itself as “the first entertainment and lifestyle brand for and by the military community.”

The Philippines, according to the article written by Blake Stilwell, was better off only than Costa Rica (which has “no armed forces to speak of”), Iraq, North Korea, Eritrea and Nigeria. Rounding up the top 10 are Tajikistan, Mongolia, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan.

The article explained the Philippines’ inclusion in the list thusly:

“The President of the Philippines vowed to upgrade the country’s aging Navy and Air Force to the tune of $1.7 billion, the Philippine Congress passed a bill appropriating $2 billion for the effort and … that’s it. Despite the Chinese military buildup in the region, with aggressive moves by the Chinese to claim areas and build islands close to the Philippines, the Philippines’ naval and air forces are still nearly 60 years old and its ships are old US Coast Guard cutters.”

This spot-on evaluation of Philippine military might drew reactions of agreement from both the AFP and Malacañang Palace. Yes, the government is “working on” modernizing its aging equipment, they said; but no, it’s not going to be completed anytime soon.

But it wouldn’t be a real reaction from the Aquino administration if it did not blame the previous administration. “There are a total of 56 projects under the AFP Modernization program and this has been completed, compared to 45 projects done under the previous administration,” said Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma.

Maybe the government should just concentrate on modernizing the military instead of blaming the past administration for everything that goes wrong on its watch. The failure to modernize our aging armed forces, after, is not exclusively the fault of the government of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, but of all the administrations that went before hers.

The over-reliance of Filipino rulers on American military aid (which is still the policy of this President, by the way) is ultimately to blame for the failure to equip our troops properly. But that wouldn’t be the straight path, if it admitted error and didn’t heap it instead on Arroyo, now, would it?

* * *

From Davao City, I’m told that the first Mindanao-based Public-Private Partnership project is encountering opposition because the Aquino administration seems hell-bent on awarding it to a favored contractor, instead of local operators currently doing a good job. And why am I not surprised that the Department of Transportation and Communications, which has become famous for incompetence and for brokering shady deals, is behind the plan to award the Sasa seaport project before the current government steps down next year?

The project’s PPP Information Memorandum is reportedly too optimistic in its projections on container traffic. It has also set conditions for potential bidders that favor only big-time port operators, who will be the only ones who can put up the high bidding cost.

The growth rate assumed by the year 2020, I’m told, has never before been seen in the history of Philippine port and cannot be justified by any trend in any industry that uses Davao Bay’s ports. For example, the volume of exported bananas passing through the Davao Bay, which accounts for 70 percent of all the containerized cargoes shipped out of local ports, should grow by approximately 20,212 hectares in one year to justify the projected volume.

Besides, several private companies have already set up their own ports in the area, the biggest of which is the Davao International Container Terminal located in neighboring Panabo City in Davao del Norte province. Aside from DICT, Davao del Norte also has another privately owned port in Tagum City under development, run by the Hijo International Port Services Inc., majority-owned by International Container Terminal Services Inc. 

The criteria set out by DoTC in its Instruction to Prospective Bidders to pre-qualify obviously discriminate against local operators. It requires bidders to be currently operating “at least two international container terminals,” which shuts out local players. 

It sure sounds like a last-minute sweetheart deal is in the offing, far away from prying eyes in Manila. Let’s see how this deal goes down.

Topics: Jojo Robles , Armed Forces of the Philippines , world’s worst ,
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