DND budget hike sought as China keeps developing islands in WPS
ALAWMAKER on Tuesday asked Congress to increase the budget allocation for the Department of National Defense (DND) to upgrade its capabilities to perform its role in securing the country’s sovereign territory, as the agency admitted that China continues to develop islands in the West Philippine Sea.
During deliberations on the proposed P283.2-billion budget of the DND for 2021, Muntinlupa Rep. Ruffy Biazon said the current and emerging challenges the Philippines face require more than the allocation currently provided for the DND in the National Expenditure Program.
“Although the Department of National Defense usually ranks among the top 5 agencies based on the amount appropriated every year, the need to provide for the modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines to counterterrorism and local insurgency, as well as conducting humanitarian assistance and disaster relief in times of calamities and other emergencies should compel
Congress to find other means of sourcing funds beyond the General Appropriations Act,” he said.
Of the proposed P283.2-billion 2021 budget of the DND, P208.7 billion will be allocated as regular funds and the remaining P74.5 billion, for the pension of retirees and war veterans.
“It is a fact that in spite of calls by individual legislators to increase the appropriations for the DND-AFP included in the annual National Expenditure Program submitted to the Congress by the President, there is usually very minimal or no change at all when the General Appropriations Bill [GAB] is filed and passed as the General Appropriations Act [GAA],” Biazon added.
While this is understandable, given the limitations in the formulation of the NEP, Biazon said Congress is not limited to the GAA in providing funds for the AFP to upgrade its capability especially in securing our maritime and air domain.
“Congress’s power of the purse is exercised not only through the passing the GAA but in the passage of other laws as well,” he said.
“It is in this light that during the Budget Briefing by the Department of National Defense and its attached agencies held by the House Appropriations Committee, I sought the support of Members of the House for the passage of bills I filed, that would provide additional sources of funds outside the GAA for the modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines,” Biazon added.
House Bill 699 seeks to amend the Bases Conversion Development Law to increase the share of the AFP for its modernization program from the current 35 percent to 55 percent. Based on the average remittances of the BCDA in the first three years of the Duterte administration (P15.2 billion), this would mean an additional P3 billion in one year.
“Depending on how much the remaining properties will sell in the future, this figure could go higher,” he said.
IN the same hearing, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, meanwhile, admitted that China is continuously developing artificial islands in the West Philippine Sea while maintaining its presence in the disputed territory.
“They [China] continue to improve the islands they have built,” he told lawmakers.
Lorenzana said Chinese vessels are always located on Fiery Cross, Mischief and Subi Reefs.
“We know they have troops there [West Philippine Sea] but we do not know how big. We cannot have any way of knowing that,” the Defense secretary said.
But Lorenzana assured the public that the defense department is doing its best with the assets available to protect the Philippine territory.
Meanwhile, Gabriela Rep. Arlene Brosas on Tuesday questioned the budget increase of the DND.
According to Brosas, the agency’s “sovereignty” fund has increased to P41.4 billion next year from P33.96 billion under the proposed 2020 national budget.
She noted that the increase in the sovereignty fund is contrary to President Duterte’s order not to involve Philippine troops in the naval exercises in the West Philippine Sea.
Earlier, Lorenzana said that the President has a standing order “to us, to me, that we should not involve ourselves in naval exercises in the South China Sea except our national waters, the 12-mile distance from our shores.”