Sponsorship Speech on SB 3164 (An Act Amending RA 7898 establishing the AFP Modernization Program)

I am of course honored to sponsor this bill in the presence of the most probable incoming commander-in-chief, Vice President Jejomar Binay.

The first AFP modernization program started Dec. 19, 1996 with the approval of joint resolution 28. What was then envisioned as a modernization program turned out to be only a capability upgrade for the AFP. But even at this level, the program still fell short of its target. The basic requirements of move, shoot and communicate of the AFP are substandard and outdated, if not totally lacking. How can our brave soldiers defend our people if they do not have the right equipment to fight off the enemy in the first place? 

Let me clarify distinguished colleagues, that when I say right equipment, I am referring to the most basic needs of a soldier, uniform, a strong helmet, a sturdy pair of combat boots, a reliable communication device, a sufficient amount of ammunition, and a dependable firearm that will not fail him in battle.

This representation acknowledges the fact that the implementation of the old program is far from ideal. The problems and setbacks encountered by the AFP caused serious delays in our modernization efforts. In the course of our committee hearings, we were able to identify the following as factors that contributed to the dismal performance of the old program.

First is the constant change in the priority list. It appears that in a span of 15 years, the project list as contained in Joint Resolution 28 had been changed 11 times. In fact, there were instances when the list was changed twice in a single year.

Second is the very tedious procurement system being followed under this program. Said process contains a staggering 29 stages that are not only complex but are also redundant.

Third is the lack of technical expertise in the procurement process, particularly in providing for the specifications of the equipment to be procured. The failure to provide correct and complete specifications results in long delays even for the procurement of simple items such as camouflage uniforms.

Fourth are the legal restrictions imposed by the old law such as the need of the approval of Congress before the AFP can even lease out their stagnant properties. This provision actually deprives the military from utilizing its own assets as potential sources of income.

Mr. President, your committee believes SB 3164 will provide the solution to the abovementioned problems. The revised modernization program takes into account the pitfalls of the previous model and incorporates provisions that will ensure a more efficient and cost-effective implementation of the program.

Under this proposed measure, the AFP modernization program planning and procurement shall be conducted in accordance with the Defense System of Management or DSOM, which is defined as a strategy-driven, capability-based, multi-year planning and execution process. The DND is presenting DSOM as a possible solution to the setbacks encountered by the previous program.

Under DSOM the different aspects and stages involved in the modernization program shall be treated as one integrated and holistic process, starting from the assessment, planning and financial management aspect, down to the procurement and contracting stages.

The DND believes that with DSOM in place, the problem of constant changes in the priority list will now be avoided. Moreover DSOM also streamlines the procurement process by introducing the defense acquisition system, which only involves 2 assessment levels plus the actual procurement and contracting stage. This system will ensure that only material or system solutions that best address the identified capability gaps will be procured while taking into account cost-effectiveness considerations.

SB 3164 also introduces changes in the provision regarding the AFP modernization act trust fund. One fundamental change is that the fund can now be used to cover all necessary expenses to implement the procurement of equipment such as expenses for pre-selection and post-qualification stages. According to the military the lack of funds to pay for these expenses also hinders the entire procurement process. With respect to sources of the trust fund, some of the most significant amendments are:

First, the approval of Congress is no longer required in the lease or joint development of military reservations, in the same way may be accomplished with the consent of the president.

Second, only in the sale of military reservations is the approval of Congress necessary.

Third, proceeds from PPP projects entered into by either the DND or AFP will also form part of the said trust fund.

The creation of a congressional oversight committee is also proposed under SB 3164. The main purpose of having this oversight committee is to give Congress the needed muscle to safeguard the public funds allocated in the program and to ensure this new modernization program will be implemented as envisioned under this proposed measure.

Although it is true the previous modernization program has failed to accomplish its goal, this does not mean we should abandon our efforts to uplift the status of the AFP. We cannot escape the truth that every country needs a strong and reliable military force. For how can we guarantee a bright future if we cannot guarantee a safe protected and free environment for them?

As we all fervently hope that the situation in the Scarborough Shoal will not escalate to alarming levels, this matter only serves to (elucidate?) the importance of having a reliable military force. When we do not discount the importance of having allies, it is undeniable that our country must have a reliable military force that can readily protect and defend our territory, our natural resources, and most importantly our people.

How can our military, particularly our naval force, protect our rights if they only have a BFAR vessel MCS-3008, and the BRP EDSA-2, a PCG SARV to represent our country’s claim in the said area, as against the 14 Chinese ships in Panatag Shoal, 4 big maritime ships and 10 fishing boats? Indeed, this maritime standoff with China only brings to fore the urgency of immediately enacting his vital piece of legislation.

With the new modernization program in place, our AFP will have the opportunity to upgrade, improve and elevate its status to a competitive level. The modernization of our AFP must be made a priority of this administration.

This representation is not saying it should be prioritized over and above other concerns such as education or public health. But the current status of our armed forces is truly pitiful, and the ones who suffer greatly are the brave soldiers defending our country and our people in the field.

Mr. President, distinguished colleagues, the simple truth is that when we help our soldiers we are not only helping ourselves but also ensuring a safe and protected future for our children.

In closing, let me state boldly here and now, that during this critical time in our modern history as a nation, the AFP modernization program is the lifeline of our AFP. And I can be equally bold in saying the AFP is the lifeline of our beloved country. Thank you very much.