At Ground Level | US touts its aid to boost AFP modernization plan

“An irreplaceable US ally for seven decades, the Philippines has been at the forefront of preserving the free and open regional order in Southeast Asia and the greater Indo-Pacific region.”

That hyperbolic accolade came from the US State Department, the opening paragraph of a report released last October by its Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, on the status of security cooperation with its strategic ally under the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT).

It reflects the US government’s euphoria over the current administration’s similarly euphoric readiness to restore all-round US-Philippine relations, presumably as close as it had been under Ferdinand Marcos Sr.’s prolonged despotic regime, which Marcos Jr. routinely invokes as his model.

That regime, the world can remember, was effectively ousted by the People’s Power Revolution, the Filipino people’s peaceable uprising in February 1986. How the current administration will observe that historic event later this month is a matter of public curiosity.

The State Department report claimed that the Mutual Defense Treaty, after 72 years since its signing, “continues to thrive in the ever-evolving security environment that surrounds the Philippines.”

Of course, that wasn’t the historical reality. The fact is, junking the two unequal treaties, the MDT and the US-RP bases agreement, was consistently demanded by the popular movement that thrived under the Marcos dictatorship.

In 1991, the Philippine Senate positively responded to the people’s clamor and voted to end the presence of US military bases here. Even Juan Ponce Enrile (now Marcos Jr.’s presidential legal counsel) as senator voted to oust the US military and called for also junking the treaty itself. However, the Senate never came to act on the MDT.

The Cory Aquino presidency, however, favored the retention of the US bases, and the succeeding governments eagerly acceded to American pressures to negotiate and sign new bilateral military agreements.

Thus, US troops have been allowed to return through the 1998 Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), accounting for the year-round rotational presence of US troops for joint military exercises with Filipino armed forces. Under the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), US military facilities are being set up inside five Philippine military bases across the country; four other sites were granted by the current administration last week. Then there’s the Mutual Logistic Support Agreement (MLSA), about which little information has been made public.

The VFA was duly ratified by the Philippine Senate, but not by the US Senate. The EDCA and MLSA, on the other hand, are executive agreements that normally need no Senate ratification. However, Section 21 of Article VII of the 1986 Constitution explicitly provides: “No treaty or international agreement shall be valid and effective unless concurred in by at least two-thirds of all the Members of the Senate.” Our senators therefore need to be reminded to assert and exercise their right and duty in this regard.

“Together, these agreements continue to provide the foundation for the bilateral security relationship and enable continued US military support, presence and interoperability [between the US and Philippine armed forces],” the State Department said in its report.

Further, it emphasized how, in recent years, America has been aiding its treaty ally’s ambitious 15-year program to modernize the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

For a program that aims to solve the AFP’s “long-standing shortfalls in its defense capabilities” by 2027, the Americans say this will cost more than $40 billion, a tremendous load for Filipinos. It consists of three phases, designated as Horizons 1, 2 and 3.

Following are what the report claimed the US has already contributed towards achieving the modernization goal:

• Since 2015, the State Department has provided the Philippines with over $463 million in security assistance under its authorities, primarily via Foreign Military Financing, International Military Education and Trainings, and Peacekeeping Operations funded through the Global Peace Operations Initiative.

• The US Department of Defense, beginning in 2018, has provided $237 million also in security assistance. The aid primarily came through the following titles: Authority to Build Capacity, Defense Institutional Capacity Building, Indo-Pacific Maritime Security Initiative and the Global Security Contingency Fund.

• All together, the US has $1.033 billion in “active government-to-government sales” with the Philippines under the Foreign Military Sales System. Recent “significant implemented sales” included the C-130T transport aircraft; Scout, Assault and Light Support boats and AN/SPS-77 Sea Giraffe 3D search radars, with related equipment, support and training.

• In 2019 and 2022, the Philippine Defense Department signed contracts to purchase 48 S-70i Black Hawk combat and utility helicopters worth $865 million from the Polish manufacturing firm PZL Mielec, a Lockheed Martin company. The modern helicopters, the report said, were intended to perform search and rescue missions, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief and troop transport.

Of the 48 Black Hawks, 16 units (worth $241 million) were delivered from November 2020 to December 2021. One of the units delivered crashed in June 2021, while on a night-flying exercise. The additional 32 units (worth $624 million) would be delivered in staggered basis from 2023 to 2026.

• From 2019 to 2021, the US had also authorized the “permanent export of almost $171.3 million in defense articles” to the country through the Direct Commercial Sales process. Under this process are three categories of defense articles: firearms, close assault weapons and combat shotguns (worth $56.1 million); launch vehicles, guided missiles, ballistic missiles, rockets, torpedoes, bombs and mines (worth $35.8 million) and gas turbines, engines and associated equipment (worth $25.3 million).

Last month, the Philippine Navy acquired its first ground-based air defense system (GBADS), consisting of Israeli-made SPYDER missile batteries. Objective: to “neutralize” any potential aerial threat or foreign aircraft intrusion in the country’s airspace. However, this system is categorized as a secondary air defense cover after the PAF’s FA-50PH light jet fighters, earlier acquired from South Korea. This acquisition – costing P6,846,750,000 – is not mentioned in the USSD report.

Clearly, the Americans are sweetening the deal. But will all this hardware solve our urgent problems?

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Published in Philippines Star
February 11, 2023

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