MANILA - Department of National Defense (DND) officer-in-charge Jose Faustino, Jr. assured Tuesday the military’s unwavering commitment to protect the nation’s territorial integrity as he cites the diminishing threats to internal security.
Faustino issued the remarks days after President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. registered his administration’s commitment to strengthen the country’s ties with the United States, which is in contrast to his predecessor’s stand to openly side with China.
“We really have to tread that line between contending super powers when it comes to the West Philippine Sea and the South China Sea. While we acknowledge that military capabilities of other countries are far more advanced than ours, we are not deterred from defending our national interest and dignity as a people," Faustino told the Senate finance committee.
"With all that we have at our disposal, ilalaban namin lahat ito."
Faustino was presenting the DND and its attached agencies’ proposed P310.9 billion budget for 2023.
He said the military will observe the country’s “multi-faceted relationship with China.”
"We could be cordial with other nations, but not at the expense of our sovereignty and our sovereign rights,” he pointed out.
Armed Forces Deputy Chief of Staff Vice Admiral Rommel Anthony Reyes echoed Faustino as regards defending the country’s territorial boundaries.
Reyes said there are ongoing projects that would assert the Philippines’ rights in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
He also said the military is “happy and glad” on what the President has said.
Reyes said the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea has already adopted a “whole-of-nation and whole-of-society approach.”
“We are working with other agencies, and making our occupied features not just a military installation, but also as a form of perhaps a development for fishing, for tourism and for marine research and environment protection,” he said.
ON INTERNAL THREATS
As to the presence of rebels and declared terrorist groups in the country, Faustino reported to the Senate committee the continuous "slide" of the CPP-NPA force as well as those of the Abu Sayaff Group and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Mindanao.
From the five-digit force of the CPP-NPA forces in the ‘70s and ‘80s, the communist rebel group is now down to 2,311 fighters, according to Faustino.
“Irreversible na po yung trend pagdating dito sa CPP-NPA,” he said.
Mindanao-based rebels are now only operating specifically in Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani and South Cotabato areas, the official added.
“Sa Abu Sayaff right now, for the past two years, wala na pong kidnapping reports ng mga foreigners, and even locals because of the relative peace that is now prevailing in the BASULTA area (Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi). In Central Mindanao, we’re dealing with breakaway group ng BIFF, which is being addressed right now,” Faustino said.
The weakening of these groups, according to Faustino, was also because of the government’s existing peace agreements with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Overall, the government is now only trying to thwart “4 to 5 guerilla fronts,” Faustino said.
"Before the end of this year, itong active guerilla fronts mababawasan pa, Sir,” he added.
Meanwhile, the Veterans Memorial Medical Center (VMMC) has appealed for additional funds to ensure ample attention and support to soldiers and their dependents.
VMMC Director Dr. Dominador Chiong said their P109-million budget allocation means each of their 200,000 patients is allotted P870 only per month, or P2 per day.
Chiong said their hospital survived for the past two years only because of the help extended by then President Rodrigo Duterte, and their reduced number of patients because of COVID-19.
'HOUSEBOY' AFP PERSONNEL
Meanwhile, Sen. Raffy Tulfo confronted the military leadership about reports he received that low-ranking military personnel are allegedly being used as houseboys by “some generals.”
"Nakakahiya naman po pag tinanong yung sundalo, 'Sa'n ka ba naka-assign? Ako po’y naka- assign sa bahay ni General Poncio Pilato. Tiga-walis po ako, tiga-luto po ako, tiga-linis po ako ng kubeta'," Tulfo said during the hearing.
Faustino promised to investigate the matter.
Meanwhile, Faustino said CAFGUS or Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Units members now receive P6,500 in monthly allowance.
But given the inflation, Senators Tulfo, Bato dela Rosa, and Robin Padilla sought to increase the allotment, as well as the P150-per-day meal allowance being given to soldiers.
AFP’s MODERNIZATION CONCERNS
The AFP, meantime, has already formed a team to review its termination contract with Russia, with respect to the planned procurement of 17 helicopters, Faustino said.
Since 2020, the military has already ceased its engagement with the Philippine International Trading Corporation and the Procurement Service-Department of Budget and Management.
"The Armed Forces of the Philippines and the DND stopped transferring funds since 2020 and on the onset of pandemic. Right now, we are just trying to help also PITC and PS-DBM to obligate, and if not, to give back to the Bureau of Treasury those projects that can no longer be perfected,” Reyes said.
The AFP, according to him, is required to have 36 “multi-role” aircraft and “multi-role fighters.”
The agency, he said, is looking forward to completing its “horizon projects” by 2028.
Faustino also vowed to review the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) that the previous government entered with DITO Telecoms allowing the installation of towers inside a military camp.