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MANILA, Philippines - The Senate approved on third and final reading on Monday a bill which seeks to amend the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Modernization Act after senators noted the program fell short of its targets.
Senator Panfilo Lacson, chairman of the Senate committee on national defense and security and principal author of the bill, said the AFP modernization program under Republic Act No. 7898, which ended last year, had “failed in many aspects.”
“The first AFP Modernization Program started on Dec. 19, 1996 with the approval of Joint Resolution No. 28 by the 10th Congress. What was envisioned as a modernization program turned out to be only a capability upgrade for the AFP. But even at this level, the program still fell short of its targets,” Lacson said in his sponsorship speech.
The revised AFP Modernization Program, Lacson explained, seeks to rectify the flaws and pitfalls of the previous model and incorporate provisions that will ensure a more efficient and cost-effective implementation of the program.
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, a former defense secretary, said he fully supported the passage of the bill.
”There is a compelling need to look into these modernization efforts and government leaders need to provide the policy guidance, crucial resources and exercise the proper oversight to help the military become more responsive to our security needs,” Enrile said.
Senate Bill No. 3164 was approved with 21 affirmative votes, zero negative vote and zero abstention.
Under the proposed measure, Lacson said, a new system will be introduced to cut down the procurement process from 29 stages to two assessment levels in addition to the actual procurement and contracting stages.
Lacson said the “redundant and tedious procurement system” was one of the causes of delay in the modernization efforts.
The measure will also set the policy of the program to avoid shifts in priorities.
“It appears that in a span of 15 years, the project list as contained in Joint Resolution 28 has been changed 11 times. In fact, there were instances when the list was changed twice in a single year,” Lacson noted.
The constant shifts in priorities, he said, had caused serious setbacks in the modernization of the AFP.
“SBN 3164 also introduces changes in the provision regarding the AFP Modernization Act trust fund. One fundamental change is that the fund can now be used to cover all necessary expenses to implement the procurement of equipment such as expenses for the pre-selection and post-qualification stages. According to the military, the lack of funds to pay for these expenses hinders the entire procurement process,” Lacson said.
To expedite the process, he said, the approval of Congress will no longer be required in the lease or joint development of military reservations. The consent of the President will be enough for such act.
However, he said Congress has to approve the sale of military reservations. The proceeds of the project entered into by either the Department of National Defense or the AFP will form part of the trust fund.
“The creation of a congressional oversight committee is also proposed under SBN 3164. The main purpose of having this oversight committee is to give Congress the needed muscle to safeguard the public funds allocated in the program and to ensure that this new modernization program will be implemented as envisioned under the proposed measure,” Lacson said.
“The modernization of our AFP must be made a priority of this administration,” he added.