President Rodrigo Duterte has expressed that he wants a stronger military force as his legacy to the country.
In his speech at the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) graduation ceremony on March 25, President Duterte said that this would be his goal as he finishes his term in 2022.
The Duterte administration has been noted for its anti-drug campaign and the infrastructure program “Build, Build, Build,” which have both contributed to the overall development of the nation.
But at the PMA graduation rites this year, he spoke of his will to strengthen the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
To date, the Philippines is way behind most of its Southeast Asian neighbors in military strength. According to the Global Firepower Index, Indonesia places first in the region, followed by Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar, and Malaysia. The Philippines is at the sixth spot, followed by Singapore, Cambodia, and Laos.
A comparative study of Southeast Asian military modernization made by the Foreign Policy Research Institute in 2014 listed Vietnam as having 110 fighter planes, compared to Indonesia’s 68, Malaysia’s 65, and the Philippines’ 12. Among Southeast Asian navies, Indonesia led with 33 ships and two submarines, followed by Vietnam with 14 ships and five subs, Malaysia with 14 ships and two subs. The Philippines had seven ships and no submarine.
The Philippines primarily relies on a mutual defense treaty with the United States. Under this treaty, the US is committed to defend the Philippines in case of an attack on its territory as well as on islands on its Pacific side, but is silent on any attack on any island claimed by the Philippines in the South China Sea.
During the administration of President Fidel V. Ramos in 1995, Congress enacted Republic Act 7898, the AFP Modernization Act, with P50 billion appropriated for the first five-year phase of the 15-year program, but funding was stopped by the 1997 Asia financial crisis. Succeeding administrations neglected the program until it expired in 2010.
Today, the implementation of the Revised AFP Modernization Program is now on its second phase and is to run this year until 2022. Its first phase was implemented from 2013 to 2017.
The President told the PMA graduates that the country is now steadily building up its forces under the Second Horizon of the Revised AFP Modernization Program.
Through the program, the defense has already acquired fighter jets, frigates, helicopters, arms and ammunition from South Korea and other countries. It has just acquired surveillance clones from the US. It also plans to purchase guided missile systems from Israel, in addition to what would be the country’s first-ever submarine which the country is expected to acquire before 2020.