Armed Forces of the Philippines

Senators flag ‘snail’s pace’ implementation of AFP modernization

Rambo Talabong
Senators flag ‘snail’s pace’ implementation of AFP modernization

An APC Tank place to secure the area and to prevent the tension while the residence cast thier vote at Dalican Pilot Elementary School in Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao Province. Photo by Lito Borras/Rappler

The military is eyeing to spend P38 billion for its modernization program in 2021 despite failing to spend allotted billions in the previous years

Senators Panfilo Lacson and Franklin Drilon flagged on Monday, October 12, the slow implementation of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) modernization program.

At the military’s budget hearing before the Senate on Monday, Lacson noted that the AFP seeks to purchase new equipment worth around P375 billion by 2022. Yet, only around P133 billion has so far been released to them for the acquisition of new equipment during the two phases of the modernization program.

Lacson was referring to these phases: the P75 billion allocated in 2013-2017 for Horizon 1, and the Duterte-approved P300-billion Horizon 2 shopping list for 2018-2022.

For 2021, the AFP is aiming to spend P38 billion on modernization, which would leave around P200 billion in the funded program to be still unfulfilled by 2022.

“I cannot imagine how we could be halfway in implementation of Horizon 2 and how we could complete Horizon 1 in 2017,” Lacson said, pointing to the AFP’s slow spending history.

Lacson asked the AFP to provide the Senate with a detailed breakdown of the projects completed since the start of the program so that he could defend their budget at the plenary.

Unspent billions

Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said that, just by looking at the years 2019 and 2020, it appears the AFP has not been fully spending the money it’s been given and has in fact been returning part of its allocation to government coffers.

In 2019, only P16 billion out of P25 billion allotted for modernization in the 2019 General Appropriations Act was disbursed. The AFP failed to spend P9.4 billion, leaving the funds to be remitted back to the treasury.

In 2020, the AFP also returned P8.02 billion from the modernization fund, to increase the government’s budget for the coronavirus pandemic response.

This brings a total of P17.4 billion incomplete projects that were approved under the modernization program, with the money going to the country’s pandemic response.

“Our absorptive capacity can stand improvement. We keep on saying that our AFP lags behind particularly in terms of equipment and assets compared to other countries. But maybe we should look at our abilities to disburse funds under this program,” Drilon said at the Senate hearing.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told the Senate that his department will comply with Lacson’s request of a spending breakdown.

He stressed though that the country can afford the delay since the projects are not urgent for now.

“We can move the procurement to the next years when our economy is better. We can achieve those later on,” Lorenzana said. – Rappler.com

Rambo Talabong

Rambo Talabong covers the House of Representatives and local governments for Rappler. Prior to this, he covered security and crime. He was named Jaime V. Ongpin Fellow in 2019 for his reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. In 2021, he was selected as a journalism fellow by the Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics.