President Rodrigo Duterte barely mentioned the continuing modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in his fourth state of the nation address in 2019 and even undermined its capability to defend the Philippines from China’s intrusions. (See SONA 2019 Promise Tracker: Foreign Relations)
He, however, sought the help of Congress to approve a National Defense Act — which would update the 1935 National Defense Policy under Commonwealth Act No. 1 — and adjust the separation, retirement, and pension benefits of soldiers.
In his speeches on other occasions, Duterte had been consistently promising to sustain the multi-year modernization of the Armed Forces under Republic Act No. 7898, which became law in February 1995 and had amendments in 2012. But because of the huge financial requirements for the government’s response to the raging coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, some of the procurement programs had to be shelved.
The Department of National Defense (DND) had allotted P25 billion for the AFP modernization program for 2020 for the acquisition of assets and equipment such as aircraft, naval vessels, weaponry, and communication systems to boost the military’s defense capabilities. The AFP is in the second phase of the modernization program, from 2018 to 2022.
Duterte is currently scouting for a new chief of staff of the AFP to replace Gen. Felimon Santos Jr., who will be retiring on August 4 upon reaching the mandatory retirement age of 56. Santos is the seventh chief of the military appointed by Duterte in his four years in office. He is a member of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Class of 1986, the 53rd AFP chief after Gen. Noel Clement who retired on January 4.
In February, the Philippines notified the United States government of its desire to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) following the cancellation of the U.S. visa of Sen. Ronaldo “Bato” dela Rosa that served as the “last straw that broke the camel’s back.” The Palace spokesperson that time, concurrent Chief Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, said the decision was an “accumulation…of disrespectful acts” by U.S. officials.” (See VERA FILES FACT SHEET: The Visiting Forces Agreement, explained)
See how Duterte fared in strengthening the Armed Forces:
PROMISE: Enact a National Defense Act
“We expect support for legislative initiatives aimed at strengthening defense related systems such as the proposed National Defense Act…”
Six bills seeking to strengthen the DND are pending in the Committee on National Defense and Security, Peace, Unification and Reconciliation at the Senate.
At the House, 18 bills are with the Committee on National Defense and Security.
Some of the proposed measures require mandatory military training and education of every Filipino citizen for a minimum of two years, creation of a special defense economic zone to help the army’s funding and procurement of defense equipment, installation of new military bases and facilities in key locations in the Philippines, and framework for acquisition of equipment.
Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson’s bill notes that the current National Defense Act of 1935 has become “obsolete.” He lamented that nothing has changed despite “many institutional developments, technical and capability enhancements, and technological advances in the AFP.”
PROMISE: Pass a law increasing personnel retirement and pension benefits.
“We expect support for legislative initiatives aimed at strengthening defense related systems such as the proposed…the Unified Military and Uniformed Personnel Separation, Retirement, and Pension Bill…”
Five measures adjusting the separation, retirement, and pension benefits for military and uniformed personnel as well as raising their retirement age from 56 to 60 years old are pending in the Senate. Six similar bills are in the House Committee on National Defense and Security.
In October 2019, the Department of Budget and Management reported that it released P22.3 billion pension for retired military and uniformed personnel from June to December to the DND, Department of Interior and Local Government, National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (NAMRIA), and Philippine Coast Guard (PCG).
PROMISE: Provide free legal assistance to “unjustly sued” uniformed personnel
“We are aware of the fact that there are times in AFP and PNP personnel, while in the performance of their duties, get unjustly sued. Providing them with free legal assistance to help and boost their morale.”
Only one bill filed by Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go has been pending in the Senate while five counterpart bills are in the House of Representatives.
PROMISE: Rehabilitate military hospitals
“July nagpunta na ako sa Davao–sa AFP Medical Center… then I saw the building and I went inside, iyong drainage nila bumabalik. So I said…you know I’m really surprised. You know, military men, why would you allow that kind of thing? The dirt is going back to the… how do you expect the sailors to—the soldiers to get well? Tapos that’s the only building, the oldest. I said okay you rehabilitate it, I’ll give you a new one, in the meantime.”
The new Presidential Security Group Station Hospital, which started construction in May 2019 with funding from Melco Resorts (Philippines) Foundation, held a topping off ceremony in February this year.
In September 2019, the AFP signed a renewed and expanded 2013 memorandum with Makati Medical Center Foundation (MMCF) to strengthen capabilities of 46 military hospitals and treatment facilities nationwide.
Some facilities were completed in partnership with the AFP, specifically the turnover in May of two facilities with 44-bed capacity to Tondo National High School for use as emergency quarantine.
In June, the government of Australia donated P35 million for assistance, including P17.9 million worth of medical equipment to Victoriano Luna Medical Center to help the military’s fight against the COVID-19.
Presidential Communications Operations Office, 4th State of the Nation Address of Rodrigo Roa Duterte, July 22, 2019
Official Gazette of the Philippines, Commonwealth Act No. 1: The National Defense Act, Dec. 21, 1935
Presidential Communications Operations Office, President Duterte to continue Philippine Navy modernization, July 18, 2019
Presidential Communications Operations Office, President Duterte vows for continuous AFP modernization, July 2, 2019
Presidential Communications Operations Office, President Duterte wants AFP to focus on terrorism, insurgency under new chief of staff, Sept. 24, 2019
Presidential Communications Operations Office, President Duterte commends AFP Sergeant Majors in Palace thanksgiving, Dec. 10, 2019
Presidential Communications Operations Office, President Duterte honors Marines who fought in liberating Marawi City, Jan. 14, 2020
Government Procurement Policy Board, RA 7898: AFP Modernization Act, Retrieved on July 23, 2020
Official Gazette of the Philippines, RA 10349: Amendment to the AFP Modernization Act, Dec. 11, 2012
CNN Philippines, ₱9.4-B funds for military modernization projects diverted to COVID-19 response – Defense Chief, July 22, 2020
Business Mirror, Lorenzana: AFP modernization projects that lost funding, merely deferred, July 22, 2020
GMA News Online, DND chief: Some AFP modernization projects moved so budget could be used in efforts vs. COVID-19, July 22, 2020
Department of Budget and Management, 2020 General Appropriations for Armed Forces of the Philippines, Jan. 6, 2020
GMA News Online, Duterte approves P300-B phase 2 of AFP modernization program, June 20, 2018
Inquirer.net, Duterte OKs AFP modernization shopping list for Horizon 2, June 20, 2018
Philstar, Duterte wants bigger budget for AFP, PNP in 2020, Aug. 25, 2019
Philippine News Agency, 10 generals eyed as new AFP chief, July 13, 2020
Philstar, 10 generals vie for top AFP post, July 13, 2020
Manila Bulletin, 10 generals vying for top AFP post, July 12, 2020
Manila Standard, Ten generals vie to replace retiring AFP top brass, July 14, 2020
CNN Philippines, New AFP Chief formally assumes command, Jan. 4, 2020
GMA News Online, AFP chief Santos promoted to four-star general, Jan. 28, 2020
Rappler, Veteran intelligence officer Felimon Santos Jr is new military chief, Jan. 2, 2020
Analyzing War, Shutting the Revolving Door: Let the Chiefs Serve Their Tenure, July 8, 2020
Business Mirror, Duterte appoints Lt. Gen. Felimon Santos as next AFP chief, Jan. 3, 2020
CNN Philippines, Panelo: US should explain why Dela Rosa’s visa was canceled, Jan. 27, 2020
Inquirer.net, PH walks back, suspends VFA termination ‘upon the President’s instruction’, June 2, 2020
Manila Times, Termination date for VFA moved to November 2020, June 9, 2020
CNN Philippines, Panelo: US should explain why Dela Rosa’s visa was canceled, Jan. 27, 2020
On enacting a national defense act
- Senate of the Philippines, Bills on Defense Act during the 18th Congress
- House of the Representatives of the Philippines, Bills on strengthening National Defense
- Senate of the Philippines, SB 249: The National Defense Act of 2019, July 8, 2019
On passing a law on increasing retirement and pension benefits for uniformed personnel
- Senate of the Philippines, SB 1419: Military and Uniformed Personnel Services Separation, Retirement, and Pension Act of 2020, March 23, 2020
- Senate of the Philippines, SB 1419: Military and Uniformed Personnel Services Separation, Retirement, and Pension Act of 2020, Sept. 11, 2019
- Senate of the Philippines, SB 1042: Military and Uniformed Personnel Retirement and Pension Reform Act of 2019, Sept. 11, 2019
- Senate of the Philippines, SB 772: Military Dependents Benefits Act, July 24, 2019, March 23, 2020
- Senate of the Philippines, SB 775: Military and Uniformed Personnel Insurance Fund Act, July 24, 2019
- Senate of the Philippines, SB 1370: Increasing the Compulsory Retirement Age for Officers and Enlisted Men of the AFP, Feb. 19, 2020
- House of Representatives of the Philippines, Bills on Military Retirement, Separation pay, and benefits
- Department of Budget and Management, Statement of DBM on retired MUP pension differential concerns, Oct. 11, 2019
On providing free legal assistance to unjustly sued uniformed personnel
- Senate of the Philippines, Free Legal Assistance to Any Officer or Enlisted Personnel of the AFP and PNP, July 11, 2019
- House of Representatives of the Philippines, Legal assistance of Uniformed Personnel
On rehabilitating military hospitals
- Business Mirror, MRP Foundation-funded PSG Station Hospital topped off, Feb. 24, 2020
- Armed Forces of the Philippines, AFP, Makati Medical Center agree on partnership to strengthen military hospitals, Sept. 20, 2019
- Manila Bulletin, Australia gives AFP P35M-aid for expansion of primary military hospital, June 12, 2020
- Philippine News Agency, Australia donates P35-M worth of medical supplies to AFP, June 11, 2020
- GMA News Online, Australian gov’t donates P17.9-M medical equipment to AFP, June 12, 2020
(Guided by the code of principles of the International Fact-Checking Network at Poynter, VERA Files tracks the false claims, flip-flops, misleading statements of public officials and figures, and debunks them with factual evidence. Find out more about this initiative and our methodology.)