Prior to the end of the Cold War, the Philippines was known to be one of the few countries in Southeast Asia with a well-equipped military. This was, in part, thanks to the support of the American government in providing military grade weapons and vehicles for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) since it was dealing with growing pro-communist and extremist nationalist insurgencies. Because of this, the modernisation of the Armed Forces of the Philippines was only a second thought.
In response to the withdrawal of American troops in the country, lawmakers began to formulate a way to start the reequip of the armed forces. Republic Act Number 7898 on February 23, 1995, was passed in the Philippine Congress as a means of improving the military’s capabilities [source]. This was in response to the presence of Chinese structures in Mischief Reef after they were first seen in January 1995 [source]. This was supposed to modernise the AFP over 15 years until 2007 with a minimum budget of P50 billion for the first five years [source]. Due to the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997, further funding for modernisation was halted and neglected until 2010 [source].
Republic Act Number 10349, passed on December 11, 2012, was designed to amend RA 7898 and extend it for 15 years with a minimum budget of P75 billion for the first five years with plans to end by 2027 [source].
Key Judgement 1
Outside events are almost certain to influence funding and/or to continue the modernisation of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in the next 12 months.
- Manila relied on the presence of American troops stationed in Subic and Clark for most of the external force protection, which was guaranteed under the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) [source]. The Armed Forces of the Philippines also relied on their close ties with the US military to get technical and logistic assistance when the bases were still under US military command [source]. Because of this arrangement, this allowed the AFP to orient itself on internal security matters.
- The presence of Chinese structures in the Mischief Reef in 1995 forced Manila to start the modernisation program. This came after American troops withdrew from the country in 1992 due to the Philippine Senate not renewing the lease on Subic and Clark [source].
- The Asian Financial Crisis in 1997 forced the government to stop initial funding the program [source]. This was followed by neglect before RA 7898 expired. Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin blamed the failure of the law due to bad implementation on most of the allocated funds [source].
Key Judgement 2
Internal politics are almost certain to interfere with how the modernisation of the Armed Forces of the Philippines would proceed in the next 12 months.
- During the acquisition of the Jose Rizal-class frigate, Special Assistant to the President Sec. Bong Go was accused of favoring the Hanhwa Systems Naval Shield Combat Management System (CMS) instead of the Thales TACTICOS Baseline 2 CMS chosen by the Philippine Navy [source]. Go has denied playing any role in it, but critics have cited his role as an example of unwanted political interference.
- Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana declared that Vice Admiral Ronald Mercado was trying to interfere with the selection process of the frigate’s CMS so that the contract can be awarded to another defense company [source]. He was subsequently replaced.
Key Judgement 3
Sudden changes in the country’s internal security and corruption are almost certain to force Manila to change priorities on modernisation of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in the next 12 months.
- In January 1991, Republic Act Number 6975 was passed by Congress, which mandated the transfer of powers from the AFP to the Philippine National Police as Manila projected the defeat of most insurgencies in the country by 1997 [source]. However, the resurgence of the New People’s Army (NPA) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) forced the passage of Republic Act Number 8551, which ended AFP plans to reduce manpower and instead, concentrate its efforts on internal security [source]. This meant that potential plans for modernising the military had to be placed on the side as a long-term project and forgo looking at external defense for a while.
- On July 27, 2003, 323 rogue officers and enlisted soldiers from the Philippine Army’s Scout Rangers and the Philippine Navy’s Special Warfare Group (currently known as NAVSOCOM or Naval Special Operations Command), occupied the Oakwood Premier Apartments compound in Makati City. Called the Magdalo Group (Soldiers of the Nation), they aired their grievances against corruption in most parts of the military, including connections to modernisation funds [source]. This is not the first time that problems of corruption and incompetence were raised against the institution. These issues have always hampered Manila’s efforts to modernise the AFP.
- The subsequent investigation over the allegations suggested that there was little to no planning on decision-making on supporting the modernisation of the armed forces [source].
- In 2015, news reports in the Philippines mentioned that Defense Secretary Gazmin, outgoing Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. and Army Commander Major General Hernando Iriberri approved the cancellation of purchasing a shore-based missile system from Israel, meant to deter Chinese incursion in the West Philippine Sea [source]. Instead, ballistic helmets, body armor, night vision goggles and radios due to the need of fighting terrorist threats from the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) [source].
- Defense Secretary Lorenzana mentioned in 2018 that internal security operations are slowing down efforts to modernise the equipment used by the AFP [source]. The money allocated were instead spent to help the displaced refugees from Marawi and for expenditures for the AFP during the siege.