News SONA 2019 Promise Tracker

SONA 2019 Promise Tracker: Armed Forces

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)

Less than six months later , Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro “Teddyboy” Locsin asked the U.S. to “postpone” the termination “upon the president’s orders.”

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…”

(SONA 2019)

In Progress

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…”

(SONA 2019)

In Progress

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.”

(SONA 2019)

In Progress

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.”

(SONA 2017)

In Progress

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, 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, 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

On passing a law on increasing retirement and pension benefits for uniformed personnel

On providing free legal assistance to unjustly sued uniformed personnel

On rehabilitating military hospitals

(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.)