With the country undergoing a massive campaign to eliminating the illegal drugs menace, criminality and corruption, the modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is not taking a backseat amidst these initiatives as the six-month administration of President Rodrigo Duterte has given the green-light for the construction and acquisition of the nation's first two missile-armed frigates.
Contract signing for this project took place last Oct. 24. The winning bidder is South Korea's Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI).
Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana formally inked the contract for the project as principal signatory along with ranking officials and delegates from HHI.
Signing took place at the Philippine Navy (PN)'s headquarters in Naval Station Andrada, Roxas Boulevard, Manila.
The project involves the construction and delivery of two missile-firing frigates to the PN.
The signing of the contract signals the start of the construction and is the culmination of the long and tedious procurement process for the project.
As background, the Notice of Award was approved, issued and was duly conformed by HHI on Sept. 13 with the amount of US$ 336,912,000 or PHP15,744,571,584.
Another PHP2 billion was also allocated for the acquisition of assorted anti-air, anti-sub, and anti-surface weapon platforms and munitions for the two frigates.
Lorenzana said the project is of utter significance to the DND and to the PN, in particular. It is the single most expensive modernization project signed by the Duterte administration as of this time.
Signing of the missile-firing frigate contract demonstrates the willingness of the Duterte administration to go ahead with projects started by its predecessors provided no evidence of anomalies are unearthed or discovered.
The DND chief earlier said the AFP Modernization Program remains a priority of the new defense leadership.
This is because the program jibes with the Duterte administration's plan of having a credible deterrence to secure Philippine territory especially the maritime ones.
"In the long run we will still follow our modernization because you know it jibes with what our long term plans (of) having credible deterrence to secure our territory (especially the) maritime plan," he said.
And while some projects may be fast-tracked to address criminality, terrorism, and insurgency threats in southern Philippines, Lorenzana said they will follow the plans laid for the AFP Modernization Program.
"The 15-year modernization program of the AFP will continue as scheduled," he earlier stated.
Some of the equipment acquired in this period include the three Hamilton-class cutters, the latest of which is the BRP Andres Bonifacio (FF-17) who arrived last Dec.9, six multi-purpose assault craft, 114 armored personnel carriers, three brand-new C-295 medium lift aircraft, three C-130 heavy transports, four FA-50PH light-interim fighter aircraft, the last two jets arriving last Dec. 1; five utility versions of the AgustaWestland AW-109 helicopters, eight of its attack versions, five landing craft heavies, three multi-purpose attack craft, and two strategic sealift vessels to name a few.
As this develops, plans to acquire modern weapons from other countries like Russia and the People's Republic of China are now in the works as ranking DND officials are coordinating with their counterparts to see what types of equipment can be sourced from these two countries.
Lorenzana said he is scheduled to meet with ranking Chinese officials to discuss China's firearms offer to the country.
These officials are Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jinhua and the Chinese Defense attache.
Lorenzana said the meeting is to determine what type of firearms China is willing to provide to the country
"If its already available, we will look into it and see if we need it," he added.
The DND chief also said he sees no problem for Filipino troops in handling Chinese firearms especially if it etched with Chinese characters.
"(Firearms are) mechanical. One doesn't need to read the guide to operate it. All you have to do it operate it manually. That will not be a problem," he said.
With regards to quality, the DND chief said they will know it once they see the weapons first hand.
The DND chief also said they are gearing to acquire sniper rifles from Russia.
This was based on the orders by President Rodrigo Duterte, he added.
"The President told us to look into the sniper rifles being produced by Russia as these are good. Although we are still to see anything yet, they (Russians) will show us some models for testing to (determine whether are suitable for our needs)," Lorenzana said in Filipino.
Earlier, DND undersecretary for finance, munition, materiel Raymund DV Elefante said the country is open to acquire weapons of all kind from Russia but said these are dependent on the nation's capabilities to handle these equipment.
Capabilities refer to the funding and manpower capable of handling these weapons.
"It depends. As long (as) we have capabilities (i.e funds and manpower) but this is still a long-term (plan)," he added.
Elefante made this statement when asked if the Philippines is interested in acquiring attack helicopters, diesel electric submarines and fighter jets from Russia aside from small arms like the AK-47 automatic rifle and longe-range sniper rifles.
Aside from upgrading the AFP, the Duterte administration also made significant headway in bringing peace to the countryside due to ongoing peace talks with the New People's Army (NPA).
Armed confrontation between the AFP and the NPA finally ceased after PRRD restored the declaration of ceasefire on Aug. 21 after lifting it noting violations from the rebel group.
President Duterte's gesture in restoring the erstwhile unilateral ceasefire declaration effectively reimposed the suspension of military operations earlier issued by the AFP to its field units.
Further, peace-building efforts were exerted to ensure that line units are aware of the advocacy of the Commander-in-Chief, including the dissemination of the proposed reconstituted JASIG (Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees) list and the release of detained alleged political prisoners.
The original JASIG list was meant to identify communist members who will figure in the peace negotiations with the CPP-NDF (Communist Party of the Philippines-National Democratic Front) and will aid in the implementation of the ceasefire with the rebels.
On the other hand, the AFP attended the workshop of the combined Secretariat of the Government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Davao City on Aug. 28.
The workshop reviewed the signed agreements/guidelines of the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities that will aid refresh talks with the MILF as well as the Moro National Liberation Front to come up with a more inclusive peace plan.
In the ongoing war against illegal drugs, the military's participation in the campaign was propelled by the signing of the Joint Letter of Instruction on Aug. 24, prescribing the mission, concept, and tasks of the AFP and the Philippine National Police (PNP) in the war on drugs.
It also activated on July 24 with the PNP, Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), and other law enforcement agencies also activated Task Force Noah mandated to conduct intelligence and counterintelligence operations.
These inter-agency efforts enhanced the efficiency and effectiveness of the steps taken to implement President Duterte's order to end the proliferation and use of illegal drugs in the country.
To manifest its adherence to the campaign, the AFP conducted random drug testing within its ranks.
Through Task Groups Jacob, Midas, Joshua, and Salamander, the AFP conducted random drug tests on 19,163 military and civilian personnel, allowing the identification of 44 individuals who tested positive to the use of certain illegal drugs.
With the purpose to establish a drug-free country leading towards a peaceful and secure environment conducive for sustainable development, the AFP also supported the implementation of "Oplan Tokhang" of the PNP through the conduct of 169 anti-illegal drugs operations, resulting to the arrest and apprehension of 191, surrender of 689, and killing of eight drug suspects.
Meanwhile, three AFP personnel offered their lives in this campaign while five others were wounded during the joint operations with Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency against the group of Moks Masgal in Barangay Nabalawag, Midsayap, North Cotabato in Aug. 14.
The AFP opened its camps to host the rehabilitation facilities for drug dependents. The Philippine Army committed areas in Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija; Camp Melchor Dela Cruz in Gamu, Isabela; Camp Capinpin in Tanay, Rizal; Camp Alfredo Santos in Calauag, Quezon; Camp Peralta in Jamindan, Capiz; Camp Kibaritan in Kalilangan, Bukidnon; Camp Lucero in Carmen, North Cotabato; Camp Paulino Santos in Alamada, North Cotabato; and the 401st Brigade Headquarters in Prosperidad, Agusan Del Sur.
The construction of the drug rehabilitation facility in Fort Ramon Magsaysay on a 10-hectare land in Nueva Ecija is nearing completion. The project, a joint venture of the Department of Health and the Army Real Estate Office, is expected to accommodate around 1,200 individuals.
Source: Philippines News Agency