My years as a legislator taught me the harsh realities of running a country. Any congressman or senator—even maybe their staff—has experienced toiling away days and nights just to get a piece of legislation go through a gauntlet of public hearings, into the hazing of plenary debates, from that frying pan and into the fray of fighting for quorums and votes, down to our knees praying the president won’t veto it. It’s a roller-coaster ride, but with pauses of uncertainty of a stop or a stall, and the probability of derailment.
This is how I have been feeling for more than two decades after having the Armed Forces of the Philippines Modernization Law passed in 1995. I have written about my frustration over how the law is being implemented without the due diligence of procurement, ending up with losses of military strength, soldiers’ lives, and even national territory. The procurement of substandard assets for our military personnel defeats the purpose of putting the word “modernization” in the law. It’s like having the roller-coaster transition into a full-blown train, and with another person on the controls, and then seeing it go off the tracks you made.
As the executive branch will be going through a transition in the next few months, the new administration will be tasked to handle the defense of national sovereignty in a number of fronts. Internal insurgency has been around and active for decades in the countryside; it has just recently reminded us of their presence by torching construction equipment in South Cotabato around the same time transmission lines were sabotaged by unidentified assailants, causing power outages in Sultan Kudarat and Maguindanao.
Mindanao has long been the site of strife for the country by communist rebels, Moro separatists, and radical terrorists. Recently, Muslim leaders have all but confirmed the presence of Islamic terror group Daesh or ISIS in Southern Philippines—an event so alarming that Moro rebels have joined government forces to fight the terrorists. This is where the concerns of our armed forces blurs its lines between internal and external threats, complicated by the quandary that is Mindanao.
Both these threats could have been allayed had the modernization law been implemented without the politicization of the procurement process, which led to our troops being under-equipped and our national security short-changed. Personal profit has taken priority over the readiness, capability, and safety of our troops, such as the dodgy helicopter deal from last year wherein the supposed firepower was found defective. The modernization law was not conceived just to blow up in front of our faces.
China’s incursion into the West Philippine Sea is another sphere of concern for our armed forces, on top of internal and transnational threats. The threat of a superpower’s incursion into Philippine territory underscores the need for armed forces to upgrade its logistical capacities and capabilities, especially in terms of hardware. The national leadership must acknowledge the fact that the military may have been spreading itself too thin in the face of these threefold threats.
Sure, we have alliances with other countries, primarily the United States, but our dependence on instruments such as the Mutual Defense Treaty and the Visiting Forces Agreement can only go so far. We have ways to leverage on institutional ingenuity, particularly in defending our yard. Take for example the task of upgrading our radar systems crucial in monitoring incursions in our airspace and integral in our claim over disputed areas such as the West Philippine Sea. The AFP can strengthen its ties with the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines, to empower civilian radar systems to support military initiatives in looking out to our skies for potential threats. In these times when national security is top priority, civilian controlled radar systems can work hand-in-hand to complement and supplement the AFP’s radar capabilities, beefing up our national aviation monitoring capabilities.
We can think of it as a form of public-private partnership, but in the realm of national security and defense between civilian aviation and our armed forces. We can have this as we wait for the P2.68 billion worth of air surveillance radars to be installed as part of the AFP’s modernization plan. We pray that acquisition of these and other military equipment waiting for the Defense Department’s issuance of notice of award does not fall to the usual trap of corruption. We look up to the sky to pray for this. We should also look up to the sky to check for unfriendly aircraft.