National security threats, particularly the internal problems from the communist rebels and their allies, were addressed through the strategical improvement of the capabilities of the armed services through the modernization pursuit of President Rodrigo Duterte.
It was determination plus his unorthodox brand of cutting through bureaucratic hindrances that resulted in speeding up the acquisition of modern equipment.
He had criticized the bidding requirement saying that syndicates had cornered projects as a result of it and that the government ends up with inferior products due to the lowest bid principle.
Through President Duterte’s strong will to put into effect the upgrades, the Armed Forces of the Philippines completed a total of 54 modernization and 70 other military enhancement projects.
Among the new assets are two missile frigates, the BRP Jose Rizal and the BRP Antonio Luna, now commissioned and deployed for patrol missions; the FA-50PH light-interim fighter aircraft; and two Agusta Westland “Wildcat” anti-submarine helicopters.
Fifteen S-70i “Black Hawk” helicopters were also commissioned and more are expected to arrive under a P32 billion project. Some P125 billion was appropriated for the procurement of new military assets during Mr. Duterte’s watch.
At the height of the pandemic, the newly-acquired military assets became pivotal in transporting personal protective equipment to frontliners and vaccines to remote areas.
The Navy and Coast Guard fleets can patrol longer and are better equipped against aggressors.
According to incoming President Chief Legal Adviser Juan Ponce Enrile, the next logical step is self-reliance.
A self-reliant defense posture should be revived in which the country manufactures its own guns and bullets. “We used to produce the sidearms and rifles of our police,” according to Enrile.
He related that as defense secretary, he had the experience of the United States not delivering what it committed, and thus the administration of the late President Ferdinand Marcos took the step of strengthening local arms manufacturing.
“We developed our Air Force and our Navy but all of that stopped after the next President (Cory Aquino) took over. Particularly halted was Project Sta. Barbara,” Enrile revealed.
Project Sta. Barbara was a missile program that produced the Bongbong rocket, which was the first indigenous liquid propellant-fueled missile.
“If those self-reliance projects were not stopped, we should have a thriving defense industry,” he added.
He also referred to several valuable Marcos initiatives that were abruptly halted when the Aquino power grab happened.
Vindictive politics of the past had created huge development gaps that should not be allowed to be inflicted on the nation again.