DND chief buys arms in ‘last 2 minutes’
By Jocelyn R. Uy
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—A day after opposition presidential candidate Benigno Aquino III warned foreign governments against forging “midnight deals” with the Arroyo administration, Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales confirmed he was engaged in a last-minute groundwork to acquire new weapons for the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
“We are rushing what we can still do under the AFP modernization program in our very limited time left,” Gonzales said in a statement. “Aren’t we, Filipinos, known to be good in the last two minutes?”
To expedite the upgrading of the AFP, Gonzales on Friday said he had set up a new mode of procurement which would allow the Philippines to enter into deals with “reputable” governments, instead of dealing with private suppliers.
He said this would avoid controversial biddings that had tainted previous equipment acquisitions by the military organization.
The AFP Modernization Act of 1995 was enacted to allow the military to modernize in 15 years with a total outlay of P331 billion. But only P28.9 billion out of the total fund has been allotted under the law, which expires this year, Gonzales said.
He cited “legal constraints” and the country’s financial condition as the reasons why his predecessors failed to aggressively pursue the modernization program.
“Notwithstanding the fund provision of the law, the defense department can only spend up to P5 billion per year from this fund,” he pointed out.
Speaking before diplomats on Thursday, Aquino warned foreign governments and suppliers against entering into “midnight contracts” with the outgoing Arroyo administration.
The Liberal Party standard-bearer said graft-ridden, “supplier-driven” deals to modernize the AFP were “being rushed even as we speak.” He said any such midnight deals would be scrapped if they turned out to be disadvantageous to the government.
Gonzales disclosed that the defense department and AFP officials had started considering various offers coming from certain countries. He did not elaborate.
Among the hardware the AFP was keen on acquiring were an armor system for the Army; multi-role vessels for the Navy; and attack helicopters, long-range patrol and medium-lift aircraft for the Air Force.
Gonzales said acquiring the equipment might take at least two to three years but the government was already doing the groundwork for the acquisitions before his term ends, as President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo winds down her administration.
Open to scrutiny
To allay fears of irregularities, Gonzales stressed that any deal resulting from these preparations “would be according to law and open to public scrutiny.”
Gonzales underscored the importance of pushing for the AFP modernization, saying a strong defense system was vital in building a “wealthy and progressive country.”
“It is not only about building our defense capability. It is also about restoring our people’s pride in their Armed Forces and triggering their pride for our country,” he said.