27 Juli 2015
Shore-based Missile System (photo : Nafomag)
MANILA - Can the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) attain a "minimum credible external defense posture" as promised by President Aquino before he steps down in 2016?
Aquino is set to give his fifth and last State of the Nation Address (SONA) this coming Monday, and part of his report, as expected, is to update his "Bosses" on the current state of the AFP in the face of China's aggressive reclamation activities in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).
In some of his previous SONA, Aquino assured the nation of the highest level of security from the external defense establishment. But, up to now, he has not yet signed the proposed revision of the AFP Modernization for 2013-2017 with a total budget of P60.1 billion, which is also riddled with realignments, most especially the P6.5 billion worth of Shore-based Missile System (SBMS).
"[The] remaining time is too short. Big-ticket items take a long time to implement," former AFP chief of staff Alexander Yano responded when asked of his personal opinion.
Yano was chief of the military during the time of former Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Reached through his mobile phone for reaction, Parañaque City Representative Roilo Golez concurred with Yano, although he said Aquino's concern for the AFP, one of the weakest in the region, is very much appreciated.
"In fairness, he (Aquino) did much better than the other presidents before him," Golez said.
But former AFP vice chief of staff Lt. Gen. Reynaldo Mapagu said the failure to achieve minimum credible external defense posture can also be blamed on the "weak defense leadership."
"Well, simply because the AFP Modernization got stalled in the first place," he said, adding the observation that the AFP "doesn't even seem to know its priorities" in terms of capabilities needed to attain it.
"Worse, corruption has apparently attended the procurement of major items that the AFP urgently needed. Also, personal interests over organizational needs characterized the defense decision-making process. National security and defense are in the back-burner," Mapagu said.
Golez said he believes a minimum credible defense posture is not realizable under Aquino's term.
"No shore-based missile, no flotilla of missile boats and no missile frigates and no combat-ready fighter jets with well-trained pilots, how can you say you have a minimum credible external defense posture?" Golez asked.
He pointed out that, while there are 12 FA50 fighters worth P19.8 billion on order from the Republic of Korea (ROK), these are not combat-ready.
"There are two frigates to be ordered with funds already but will be ready only after three, maybe 4 years. Then we have the two former US Coast Guard cutters, the BRPs Gregorio del Pilar and Ramon Alcaraz, better than previous Navy ships but not fit even for joint operation with the US Navy and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force," Golez said.
He said the SBMS is big step to jump-start the territorial defense posture, but the project is in peril after then Army chief and now AFP chief Gen. Hernando DCA Iriberri shelved it in favor of infantry helmets and body armors, instead.
"Iriberri is to blame for canceling the shore-based missile system. He obviously does not understand external defense and is unfit to lead the AFP when we are facing a grave external threat. I urge the Commission on Appointment not to confirm him," Golez said.
But Iriberri denied that the missile project has been shelved, because the acquisition is only deferred from the 1st Horizon (2013-2017) to the 2nd Horizon (2018-2023), which is already beyond Aquino's term.
National Security Adviser (NSA) Cesar Garcia Jr. has been repeatedly saying in public that the biggest and categorically clear and present danger to our national security is the aggression of China, which the President and the military leadership do not seem to consider.
In the last five years of the Aquino administration, the government has, so far, not acquired any military asset for addressing external threats.
Golez said the SBMS could be the only credible weapon system to thwart off potential aggression. However, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Iriberri have recommended to Aquino the realignment of the SBMS.
If Aquino approves the realignment of the SBMS and/or deferment of the project implementation beyond his term, defense and security experts said they shudder at the thought of its possible implications for the country's external defense capability.
The government also risks the diplomatic backlash from Israel, which has been a long-standing ally of the Philippines and where 30,000 undocumented Filipinos are currently staying yet enjoying favors from the Israeli government.
A military source disclosed that Israel Military Industries (IMI) is considering the filing of a diplomatic protest on the issue of the supply contract for the SBMS.