Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon noted the sluggish implementation of the military’s modernization program and urged Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana to expedite the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Modernization Program.
“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 on the budget of the Department of National Defense for 2021.
Drilon advised Lorenzana to expedite the AFP modernization program after he found out that only P16 billion out of P25 billion in the 2019 General Appropriations Act were disbursed.
The AFP failed to implement P9.4 billion worth of projects. The funds were remitted back to the treasury pursuant to the Bayanihan 1.
The AFP also returned P8.02 billion from the 2020 GAA for Covid-19 response.
In total, the AFP did not implement P17.4 billion worth of projects as the funds were realigned for Covid-19 response.
“For 2019, out of P25 billion you have disbursed about P16 billion leaving a balance of P9.4 billion. If we cannot disburse P25 billion in 2019, the P38 billion looks like a challenge to me,” said Drilon.
For 2021, the allocation for the military’s modernization program is P38 billion.
“The AFP modernization program is moving at a snail’s pace. This is unacceptable and this affects our ability to protect our interests in the West Philippine Sea,” Drilon said in a statement.
The Senate chief fiscalizer underscored the need for the country to beef up its defense to effectively protect the West Philippine Sea.
“It is important to consider the absorptive capacity of the AFP so that we can determine if the AFP will indeed be able to obligate all of the funds next year,” he added.
Drilon also reiterated his concerns over the growing pension requirement for the armed forces.
For next year, the proposed allocation for the pension of AFP retirees is P74.55 billion, P63.69 billion of the amount is allocated for 140,510 AFP retirees while P10.86 billion is for the veterans.
“The burden on the national budget of these unfunded pensions of the AFP affects every aspect, including the ability of the government to fund the modernization program, which we need. Unless we resolve this equitably, the issue on the pension fund, everything else is affected,” Drilon said in the hearing.
“This is a huge fiscal concern not only because we are in the middle of a pandemic, but also because in the coming years, the national government will have to implement the Mandanas ruling,” Drilon said.
Due to the Mandanas ruling, the IRA of LGUs will dramatically increase by P400 billion, from P695 billion next year to P1.083 trillion by 2022, he added.
“We cannot continue to sweep it under the rug because everything will be affected including the military’s modernization program,” he added.
The Senate national defense committee is looking at measures to resolve the issue and establish reforms for a fair and sustainable pension system of military and uniformed personnel (MUP).