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AFP underspending, undelivered PNP equipment

AS of the end of 2017, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) had not used R3.027 billion of its Modernization Fund, the Commission on Audit (CoA) reported last week. These funds were supposed to be for the purchase of civil engineering equipment, 50,000 pistols, radar and basing equipment for the Philippine Air Force and other units, the AFP Pension Fund, its Calamity Fund, and other programs.

It was in 2017 that the AFP was tested in the five-month siege of Marawi by the Maute Group supported by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), at great cost in lives, weapons, ammunition, and equipment. It now turns out that all the while, the AFP had over R3 billion in appropriated funds that it did not use, that may well have helped shorten the fighting.

The CoA also reported last week that the other national uniformed service of the country, the Philippine National Police (PNP), had ordered R1.347 billion worth of mobility and combat assets – utility trucks, personnel carriers, automatic grenade launchers, and personnel equipment – way back in 2016, but up to the end of 2017, the purchased equipment had not been delivered.

“The R1.347 billion worth of mobility and combat assets could have greatly contributed to the capability of the police force to effectively and efficiently accomplish its mandate and would have benefitted PNP personnel,” the CoA report said.

It was in January 2015, that the PNP suffered the tragedy of Mamasapano in which 44 members of its Special Action Force were killed in Maguindanao when they were overwhelmed by combined forces of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, and militias. The R1.347 billion in mobility and combat assets that the PNP ordered in 2016 would have greatly boosted its combat equipment and its self-assurance after the Mamasapano tragedy.

For so long, our uniformed services have lagged behind those of our neighboring countries, in part because of our dependence on the United States in defense matters, including reliance on refurbished vessels, planes, weapons, and ammunition. We have now begun to purchase our own combat equipment, such as jet fighters from South Korea. The AFP budget for 2018 alone amounts to R25 billion.

Last week’s CoA reports, however, should remind the officials concerned that the neglect that marked some government activities in the past, such as the underspending by the AFP and inaction on undelivered equipment to the PNP, must no longer be tolerated.