DND bud­get hike sought as China keeps de­vel­op­ing is­lands in WPS

BusinessMirror - - The Nation - By Jovee Marie N. Dela Cruz @joveemarie

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.

China’s pres­ence

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.”

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