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Opinion: The Philippines Military Modernization Severely Snagged

President Benigno S. Aquino III, accompanied by Philippine Nay (PN) Flag Officer-in-Command (FOIC) Vice Admiral Jose Luis Alano, tour and inspect the facilities of the BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PF16) in 2013.

President Benigno S. Aquino III, accompanied by Philippine Nay (PN) Flag Officer-in-Command (FOIC) Vice Admiral Jose Luis Alano, tour and inspect the facilities of the BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PF16) in 2013.

The Philippines’ armed services modernization program took a strange and alarming turn recently as President Benigno Aquino III’s final term comes to a close.
The program took a nasty hit in July when the newly installed chief of staff General Hernando Irriberi, called for and successfully led an effort to push back the shore-based missile project in favor of purchasing more helmets, body armor, squad weapons and tactical radios. Then came the one-two punch, with another newly minted flag officer—navy Rear Adm. Cesar Taccad—stating during his August swearing-in, “No expansion is happening. They [China] are just pursuing their interests”—a stunning commentary in light of accelerated reclamation efforts by the People’s Republic of China in the contested Spratly Islands.

The developments are both alarming and puzzling, given Aquino’s platform and track record to improve the nation’s external defense posture. More important, it comes on the heels of several stalled key acquisitions that were to be delivered during his term, including the on-again, off-again frigate program, the long-range maritime patrol aircraft and the air defense radar network.

As a lame-duck incumbent, Aquino’s reticence in responding to such contradicting moves on his agenda is a sign of local political culture; he is leaving the cleanup and next moves to whomever inherits his office. Chief of Staff Irriberi’s motivation appears purely patriarchical; the army has received the smallest share of the overall modernization budget—to date approximately 10 percent of the monies allocated. Notably, he would neither account nor comment on previous tranches of the same equipment for which the missile systems were sacrificed—thousands of pieces of force protection gear, including vests and other items obtained in the past few years that never made it into service; the gear languishes in warehouses, labeled as defective and remaining untested. Admiral Taccad’s comments appear to be a circling of the wagons—every move made since the acquisition of the former U.S. Coast Guard Hamilton cutters has been aimed toward improving the incremental capabilities of the sea service, with a mind to increasing presence in the disputed areas of the Western Philippine Sea.

These latest developments have put a huge dent not only in the modernization progress of Asia’s weakest military, but potentially into American foreign policy as well. With sequestration still a significant factor, the U.S. pivot to Asia is counting more than ever on improving the capabilities of friendly regional powers, without having to invest significant amounts of money or to commit additional military forces. Such a strategy relies heavily upon each of those nations making the necessary efforts and expenditures to stand up a military that can interoperate with U.S. forces and provide some of the presence operations sorely needed to check China’s Nine-Dash Line agenda.

 The Philippine navy frigates BRP Gregaorio del Pilar (PF-15), left, and BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PF-16), left, are underway with the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG-56) in 2014. US Navy Photo

The Philippine navy frigates BRP Gregaorio del Pilar (PF-15), left, and BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PF-16), left, are underway with the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG-56) in 2014. US Navy Photo

The Philippines still has only a tenuous hold on its claims in the Spratlys, and even having pulled out of a 13-year “death spiral” of declining spending and degraded capabilities, the culture of American dependence has not yet been fully broken. Despite an influx of net-new platforms (various army vehicle transports, navy and air force helicopters, medium lift turboprops), the bulk of assets within all service branches are aging or excess defense articles (EDA). It is the latter category that is complicating and potentially delaying progress in the modernization program; as regional and superpowers upgrade their own systems, the discards become part of an EDA effort to boost lesser-equipped allies. It is strongly believed that the recent announcement by Japan to start retiring their license-built P-3 Orions in favor of homebuilt Kawasaki P-1 jets may have put a wrench in the Philippines’ intentions to buy new maritime patrol planes. Japan’s Orions are generally acknowledged to be the best maintained out of all existing models currently in service; it would not have been a far jump for the Philippines to succumb to the idea yet again of gaining incremental improvements at a lower acquisition cost. It is that type of thinking that needs to be burned out of national defense planning.

While the policy reversals by Aquino’s military leaders may simply boil down to branch politics and lame-duck hi-jinks, the impacts are all too real. Further delays and distractions to a modernization program beset by corruption and failed bids negatively impact the ability to exert territorial control and preserve Philippine claims in the contested areas.

It is increasingly obvious that the Philippines need to pursue several courses of action. For modernization, the program must get back on track and focus solely on new Day 1 turnkey weapon systems. The capability gap is too large to bridge by relying solely upon EDA. Even in cases where new build is achieved, such as the purchase of strategic sea lift vessels from Indonesia, the ships are missing weapon systems and potentially sensor/communication suites upon delivery. This so-called “fitted for but not with” practice degrades any initial investments in modernization by deferring to properly provision an asset and become fully mission capable. Secondly, despite a dearth of assets, the Philippines has a baseline of equipment from which they should start reasserting its claims and presence.

One particular area that needs such tending is to address the Chinese presence at Scarborough Shoals, less than 200 nautical miles from the main island of Luzon. Finally, while the Philippine defense feformation effort at large has turned around a sinking vessel, it is still very much in doubt if the destination can be reached. There are still significant areas of improvement to be made, to reduce the potential of corruption, and to vastly improve the procurement and bidding practice to make purchases more flexibly and timely.

  • This is why if the Philippines wanted to Modernize in a hurry, they need to focus on getting all the 2nd hand military gear such as the Hamilton class Cutters, Island class Patrol Boats, Maestrale class Frigates, Lupo class Frigates and Bremen class Frigates. They can get 2nd hand fighters such as Mirage 2000 or go new on the Cheap such as Mig-29UPG or Mig-35’s.

    • Secundius

      @ Nicky.

      You’re Right Nicky! But like Every Military and Government Official in the World, You Have Your “Doubter’s” who Refuse To Believe. Even if it’s “Staring Them In the Face”. The Philippine Air Force is getting ~50 New FA-50’s Light Attack Fighters from South Korea. Let’s face it, the Philippine are Swapping Islands for Time. Over 7,000 Islands, but Precious Few Time…

      • Which is why if they wanted a Navy in a hurry, they could have talked to South Korea on taking their used Ulsan class Frigate and Pohang class Corvette. They can make a grab for the Remaining Hamilton class cutters. It would give them a creditable navy to stand on.

        • Secundius

          @ Nicky.

          Only, if the Philippines can AFFORD to BUY and South Korea is WILLING to SELL…

          • Well, the Ulsan class Frigates and Pohang class Corvettes are being retired. So the Philippines can ask for them in a hurry.

          • Curtis Conway

            The best idea in my mind is trade capability for land and access. We not only need Subic for the ship maintenance activity, but some operational bases closer to the South China Sea. The PI could use a couple of squadrons of some F/A-18C/Ds. As they are displaced in the USN inventory we can rework (NARF) them and pass them on. A training program would have to be stood up for flight and maintenance training. Much better to have two engines over water, and that is what most of the PI is surrounded by.

          • That’s why since the USN is retiring their old F/A-18 C/D’s, the Philippines can simply take them off the USN/USMC’s hands.

          • Secundius

            @ Nicky.

            Since the End of WW2, the Philippines weren’t a Threat to Anybody or Anyone. Now there Sitting On Top of a Large Oil Reserve, with NO WAY to Protect that Reserve or Themselves. NOW They have to Relearn there Place in the Real World, and they have “Scant” WEALTH to do it With. So, until there able to Catch Up, or at the Very Least Defend Themselves. Everthing they acquire is probable going to be Cast-Off’s and Hand-Me-Down’s. The ONLY asset’s they have is the Oil Reserve, and even that is only going to carry them to the Middle of This Century. And then, there back to Square One…

          • That’s why, getting them the old Ulsan class Frigates and Pohang class Corvettes could bring their Military into the late 70’s and 1980’s era.

          • Secundius

            @ Nicky.

            We’ll just have to see, how far a ~$3-Billion USD. Defense Budget get’s the Philippine Military…

          • $3 Billion doesn’t go alot these days. $3 billion would pay for Maintenance, upkeep and salaries

          • Secundius

            @ Nicky.

            The 2016, Philippine Defense Budget in expected to be “Bumped-Up” ~25% or ~$552-Million USD…

          • In most Militaries, the typical budget is at least $10+ Billion dollars

          • Secundius

            @ Nicky.

            In 2014, Israel had a Defense Budget of ~$121-Billion USD. Unfortunately, the USA Contributed ~25% of that Budget or ~$30.25-Billion USD. My the Philippines, should “Stitch” a Blue Star of David on the Flag and get the Same Treatment…

          • Then the problem is graft and corruption. The Philippines never cleaned that up and it’s still a problem.

          • Secundius

            @ Nicky.

            Unfortunately Nicky, that’s not going to change anytime soon, if ever…

          • That’s why Graft and Corruption will always hamper the Philippines

          • Secundius

            @ Nicky.

            As I recall, It’s hampered every Military and Government going back to Troy. If not Earlier. Greed is Human Nature, Just Like Every Other “VICE” on the Planet. Even Animal’s have Greed, or their wouldn’t be an “Alpha” or an “Omega” dominance…

          • Secundius

            @ Nicky.

            There’s also the “Flip-Side” of the Coin, Nicky. From the Philippine’s Prospective, we (the USA) are Leasing FIVE Military Sites in the Philippines. Why should they Protect their Own Country, When We the United States of America can do that TOO. And have the Privilege of Paying Them (the Philippine’s) ~$27-Billion USD. a Year, at the SAME TIME…

      • I think The Philippines should be making a deal with the British on building the River class OPV that is similar to what the Royal Thai Navy has. If they can learn to build the River class OPV. It can give them the skills to build their own ship. On the plus side, they can crank out OPV’s to guard their smaller island and EEZ.

        • Secundius

          @ Nicky.

          The Philippine Defense Budget for 2015 is ~$3-Billion USD. and they have a ~$72-Billion USD. External Debt. So, even with ~$27-Billion USD. coming in each year from the US. Government, GUESS which is Going To Get Paid First…

          • That’s why the Philippines have a problem with Rampant graft and Corruption. Unless they fix it, they will never modernize.

          • Secundius

            @ Nicky.

            Nicky, We have Rampant Graft and Corruption in Our Government Too. And, yet thing’s seem to get done…

          • The Philippines have it far worse

          • Secundius

            @ Nicky.

            Nicky, If we CAN’T Rein In the Corruption in our Own Government. What make’s you think the Filipino’s are going to be able too rein in their Government…

          • The US ain’t that bad

          • Secundius

            @ Nicky.

            It’s BAD ENOUGH

  • milomonkey

    philiphino goverment and top military are all corrupt and practically useless.. many brave philiphine soldiers are sacrificed because lack of funding and lack of competent officers.. it is a much deeper symptom than just giving money to the philiphines , most of it will just get stolen by crooked officials / generals..

    • Secundius

      @ milomonkey.

      That Description Fit’s every Military and Government on the Planet…

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  • Ralph

    They had the US Navy at no cost in the Subic Bay and kicked them out! Now they’ll have to pay instead of collect.

    • Michael Nunez

      Good Post , Now it’s Time to look at the Philippines for what they are….. . What are the good point’s and the bad , before any American’s are used to protect whom we can not trust to Manage their own Country .

    • Chinarules

      The US use to pay the Philippine government to stay in Subic and now they are paying for military modernization defense that will never ever happen. Let’s face it, Philippines will stay a third world country with no back bone in military defense . The amount of budget increase for the Philippine military modernization shows that there is something wrong ,there is no impact with no military hardware to show….. Philippine government always plan to buy military upgrades or purchase wish list when in reality its all hand outs from other country. Philippines is a liability….When you go to You Tube and when you type “Philippines military modernization”,it all looks good, but in reality its all wishful thinking that the Philippine military will ever acquire new modern military hardware. Philippine politicians and military generals are all crooks with no patriotism in there blood flow….Many Filipino hero’s sacrificed there lives for Philippines….All those Filipinos heroes died in vein for they gave the country that is operated by crooked politicians like Binay, Estrada and many other to many to list.

  • John B. Morgen

    What if the Philippines was still an American colony, or later become our 51 st state. Would the situation in the SCS be a whole lot different. Anyone care to comment?

  • Dan Castaneda

    Stop listening from the leftist groups. They are pro Chinese groups and lobbyists in the Philippine congress.

  • Jhun Ladao

    binawasan ang pera pang-gastus sa election.

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  • Jez James

    Nailed it! The Philippines sadly has the most incompetent political and military leaders in Asia, bar none! All fit for the firing squad.

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  • Ernie Einre

    Now even the sea and ocean belonging to other countries were being colonized by the Chinese. These land, sea and economic colonialism had to be stopped. Greediness is the underlying principle being used by these people but with these principle, they expected also that only one of them and only one man was expected to survive since they only love their own self and no other (greediness/selfishness). Will the sole survivor be a Chinese man, a Japanese man, a Korean man or an Indian (India) man? Let them be with their principle, Let them live alone by and among themselves, let them lived with this principle where their own effect will be for their own enjoyment or downfall. So they have to go back to China, Japan, Korea and India and be the proud people with these principle.

    This racial problem was not the situation and was not in existence before the European colonization of Asian countries. This problem was brought about by the use of the “divide and rule” principle by the European colonizers to gain adequate grip in their colonies. What is this system? This is best explained by the end result wherein foreigners [i.e. Chinese, Indians (India)] or local Malays but from other places were the ones dominating the other localities in terms of politics, business, government positions, military/police jobs, etc. but the native Malay people of that place (those who really lived and originated in that place) where just second class citizens and they are the poor ones with limited rights and privileges. By these, a foreigner [Chinese, Indians (India), etc.] and local Malays (but not a native of that place) served as collaborators/traitors (mercenaries) or right hand man of the colonizers. The foreigner collaborators [Chinese, Indians (India), etc.] were much higher in rank thus they also enjoy enormous benefits, rights and privileges compared to their Malay counterparts collaborators. They (collaborators, traitors) will be the ones assigned to rule and watch a place assigned to them and they will be reporting directly to the colonizers and with the full support of the colonizers. Thus these collaborators/mercenaries enjoy immense powers in the assigned areas they ruled thus, they control the politics, businesses, owns big tracts of land and can commit a lot of atrocities with impunity. They do not care since they are not from that place and all they want is the power and riches that they can get. So the benefit goes to them (collaborators/traitors), a non‐native of that place but no benefits, rights and privileges to local residents (racial tension problem ‐ Who wants to deal and live with collaborators/traitors?). It is the practice until now and it is observed even today that foreigners (Chinese, Indians, etc.) and a few locals (but not a native of that place or district) were the ones always enjoying powers since they own the businesses and were in the political and government positions and even in the higher ranks in the military and police units. This was the “divide and rule” structure established then and was still existing until now to protect the interests and benefits of the collaborators/traitors.

    The European colonizers were gone and had given the colonies their independence but the “divide and rule” structure was not dismantled and is still working. Mr. Habibie, the former President of Indonesia, is right in his analysis about the Chinese menace in Indonesia (and elsewhere also). The collaborators (foreigners and locals) became very rich and powerful and well educated until now. The Collaborators/traitors continue to prosper and their populations grow unhindered (about half of the world population) and the Malays became poorer.

    This divide and rule structure should be dismantled since this is a tool of oppression and this is still being use to assure the collaborators and traitors of their benefits. The collaborators and traitors should be sent out of the country (just like the Fiji case). Remember that during the Japanese colonization (World War 2), the Japanese and their collaborators/traitors became very rich but these riches and all benefits including immigration rights granted and obtained by the Japanese and their collaborators were invalid and illegal for these were criminal acts and were done during their colonization war (criminal act) and all their riches therefore were ill-gotten wealth. So these illegal immigrants were sent out of the country and their (Japanese and collaborators/traitors) ill‐gotten wealth confiscated and war criminals were punished. This Japanese WW2 colonization case is the same with the Chinese, Indians (India), etc. case in Malaysia, Singapore and other ASEAN countries now since this also happened again in another colonization case : the European colonization (which happened much earlier and in a longer period of time). Therefore the acts during this time were invalid and illegal (criminal act). Thus, the Chinese, Indians (India), etc. were illegal immigrants and should be deported and their wealth ill‐gotten and should be confiscated and they were collaborators/traitors and must be jailed/punished. Even in our laws today, illegal immigrants and tourists are not allowed to work and to do business especially if they are unethical in the conduct of their business [corruption, bribery, intimidation, etc.‐ Is this the Chinese, Indian (India), etc. system? You can say that again…], so they can be deported and their wealth confiscated. It is not right to deal with them and buy their goods since those were the products of ill‐gotten wealth (also please see antifencing law). But care must be taken because there are also a lot of locals today that are not collaborators and traitors and these local people are just and honest in their businesses and in their political, government and military/police works.

    Malaysia’s cultural development in giving more rights and benefits to native Malays is going in the right direction in dismantling this divide and rule structure. They (also the whole of ASEAN) must go back and restore the previous groupings/divisions and systems they have before the Western Colonization of Asia. Always remember that Malays had lived adequately, happily peacefully and independently before and can do so today. Technology belongs to the West and not with these Asian collaborators (Chinese, Koreans, Japanese and Indians) and who needs them especially with their unwanted effects which the Malays had been suffering until now.

    It is about time that the great masses of poor Malay people be given the opportunity to recover their lost ground economically. They can do this by harnessing their own power (a self‐help approach) and with not much need for foreign capital investment (Western technology, Yes it is important). One such system is by establishing businesses and jobs through pooling of capital/corporation: Basing on the business opportunities possible in a certain district, region or locality and what is needed and what will be good for national development, each working age person in a certain locality will contribute a small amount (as investor) of money (i.e. US$2.00 a month) and this will be used as capital in establishing their own corporations in their own districts or locality. Let us call these corporations “Native Malay Corporations”. The principle should be and it is a must that ONLY NATIVE MALAYS CAN JOIN these corporations and also, the products or services by THESE CORPORATIONS SHOULD BE PATRONIZE BY THE MALAYS themselves to be assured of the Market also, these “Native Malay Corporations” would buy and import products from the West or other technologically advanced countries and from other “Native Malay Corporations” and other similar corporations in other countries (other countries should adopt the “Native Malay Corporation’ principle and system also). They can contribute/invest monthly (US$2.00/person) and so, each month there will be one big native Malay corporation that will be established in every district, provinces or regions (depending on the national planning). If they will do this scheme, the profit of the corporation/business will be theirs since they own it and employment will be theirs also (more jobs). If there will be importations and foreign investments, the employment and profit will not go to the host country but to the investor and exporter of goods. With the big capitalization that can be collected (imagine the US$2.00/person monthly collection and as needed only) and with an assured market (patronizing only and all “Native Malay Corporations” products), these corporations can tie‐up with western corporations with technology for a better, complete and faster business development. Other regions such as Africa, South America, Pacific countries, etc. can also adapt this system for their own economic development. This is a fast way of economic development because all regions/districts can develop simultaneously : at the same time and not one by one. Also, the major assets and components needed are be the natural resources, the people of a country and of course advance technology from the West. It is the hope of this system and is a must that the poorest of the poor will be given the first priority and chance to invest and work in “Native Malay Corporation” for all to have a chance to live a good life that everybody deserves and to establish a strong and solid base and foundations in the Malay society/nation. If these corporations will be successful, it will be easier to help other poor countries like the African countries. As we can see today, this is the age of consolidation, so there is a need for the whole Malay World to consolidate for a better future and so we can form our own bloc, much like the Euro nations, GCC, etc.

    It is every people’s right and responsibility to protect and preserved his life, to enjoy the fullness of life and to do everything to achieve this, for this is what is just and fair.

    We have to do what is right in the eyes of GOD and not to do what is not right in the eyes of GOD. The only true guide is GOD and not the people.

  • Tolits

    Philippine military Generals have no vision, lack of strategic capability to defend the nation interest so as with the crook politician. The even don’t even care what gonna happen on years ahead not a proactive type. What they are concern are filing up their pockets and expand their personal assets. Where else in the world you can find a country with no defense capability? Only in the Philippines!!! What he have are null and void headed Generals..

  • Neo Anders

    How to economically defeat china’s navy in the South China Sea? This is my suggestion to the Philippine Navy: Create squadrons of special purpose SEAPLANES ARMED WITH TORPEDOS (I think 3-5 TORPEDOS PER SEAPLANE is possible) that can quickly deploy from Palawan or Central Philippines.

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