By SATUR C. OCAMPO
At Ground Level | The Philippine Star
The Armed Forces of the Philippines has shot up in notoriety as the most corrupt government agency in the public’s perception, per the Pulse Asia survey last month, in light of the top-level, long-running misappropriations of public funds exposed in the Senate investigation.
But President Aquino doesn’t mind. He continues to repose explicit trust in the AFP.
Speaking before Philippine Army soldiers last Wednesday at Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, Mr. Aquino said, “Whatever happens in the Senate investigation, we will not allow this controversy to erode the honor of the Armed Forces.”
And for good measure, he announced that Malacañang had set aside P11 billion “for various purchases of the Armed Forces,” with reassurance that he was looking for ways to fulfill the needs of the AFP “at the soonest possible time and to the best of our ability.”
That reassurance pertains to the promise — to provide whatever the AFP needs — that Mr. Aquino made on three occasions last year: his inaugural address, his state-of-the-nation address, and a command conference with the armed services shortly after assuming office as their commander-in-chief.
Last Tuesday the President signed Administrative Order 9, dated April 11, which orders the National Housing Authority to “formulate, implement and manage” a P4.2-billion housing program for 20,000 military and police personnel. (Simplistic arithmetic: P21,000 each…!?)
He also directed the Department of Budget and Management to give “priority attention” to funding the project, and the Home Development Mutual Fund to prioritize financial aid to the beneficiaries at concessionary rates and express processing through a “special loan window.”
What struck my attention about the P11-billion procurement fund is that only P3 billion would be drawn from the P5-billion AFP modernization fund. The bulk, P8 billion, would come from royalties paid by US oil firms exploiting the Malampaya oil and natural gas reserves off Palawan.
Lucky AFP for this off-budget bonanza! Tough luck for the Palawan local government! It has long begged the national government to give the province its due share of the royalties, in vain.
Lucky, indeed, is the AFP under P-Noy’s government. Its 2011 budget has been increased by P34.09 billion, from P55.67B in 2010 to P89.77B, and the Department of National Defense (including the AFP) budget has been upped by P47.22B, from P57.67B to P104.50B. The AFP general headquarters’ P5.30B allocation in 2010 has ballooned to P34.69B in 2011, of which P24.12B is for military pensions.
That’s a lot more money going through the AFP financial management system, a lot more opportunities for corruption to prevail in devious ways. The safeguards reportedly adopted will be severely tested.
Now what would the AFP buy with the fresh P11B? Mr. Aquino talked of new ships for the Philippine Navy, other watercraft and long-range helicopters “for our service contract areas around Palawan, the Sulu Sea and other areas.” What? Use the money from Malampaya royalties to buy military equipment to secure the foreign firms’ operations there?
For the Philippine Army, Lt. Gen. Arturo Ortiz, PA commander, cited night-fighting systems, howitzers, mortars, light rocket launchers, communications and transport equipment needed to strengthen its combat capability. The PA is the main force deployed against the New People’s Army and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
Through upgraded equipage the AFP hopes to achieve the counterinsurgency goals in its 2011-2016 Internal Peace and Security Plan “Bayanihan,” that purportedly subscribes to “the primacy of the peace process.” The goals, called “end-state(s)”, are: “a negotiated political settlement (with the MILF) within the bounds of the Philippine Constitution”; and “render the NPA irrelevant… convince them to abandon armed struggle and instead engage in peace negotiations with the government.”
Render the NPA irrelevant, how? The IPSP says: “The AFP shall continue… conducting combat operations with even greater vigor… Intensified and relentless pursuit of the NPA is intended to exhaust their armed capabilities and diminish their will to fight.”
Obviously the AFP ignores the fact that the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, representing the CPP-NPA, has engaged the government in peace talk over 25 years, and that the militarist approach has mainly obstructed the attainment of peace.
Also, the militarist approach contradicts President Aquino’s statement, quoted in Pilipino in a giant billboard at the entrance to Camp Servillano Aquino in Tarlac City, the Northern Luzon Command headquarters. It says, “Rather than relentlessly pursue the rebels, let us focus on addressing the problems of our people and the impact (on them) of military operations.”
The quotation proceeds from President Aquino’s mantra, picked up from his mother: “We must revive the peace process on the basis of a comprehensive understanding of the root causes of the conflict, under clear policies that pave the way ahead…”
But the “clear policies” haven’t been articulated definitively. Instead, Mr. Aquino has approved the IPSP, which pays lip service to the peace process but hammers on the AFP’s “primary role… to ensure that the group with whom the government is talking peace will not use force or the threat of force as leverage at the negotiating table.”