Ten officers, including two generals, and a civilian employee of the Philippine National Police were dismissed from the service this month and are facing criminal charges in connection with the PNP’s purchase of two used helicopters at brand-new prices in 2009 and 2010. The 11 also lost all their retirement benefits and cannot hold any public office.
The fate of the PNP personnel should encourage the Armed Forces of the Philippines to ensure that its planned procurement of military hardware will not be marred by scandal. The PNP helicopter deal involved only P34.63 million. The AFP’s plan to acquire 12 fighter jets and six other fixed wing aircraft by next year is going to cost so much more, with each jet having an estimated price tag of P1.2 billion. The procurement, from suppliers based in Italy, Russia, South Korea and the United Kingdom, is certain to be closely scrutinized by the public.
Apart from jeopardizing careers, an anomaly in the aircraft procurement can derail the AFP’s modernization program, modest as it is, at a time when it is urgently needed. The AFP does not have radar equipment, the Philippine Navy lacks ships and the Philippine Air Force cannot even dispatch planes to monitor the country’s territorial waters. All that the AFP and the defense department are aiming for is credible defense capability. This will be doomed by any corruption scandal in the procurement of the aircraft.
This in turn will doom any chance of a speedy upgrade in the country’s defense capability. This need has gained urgency with China’s increasing aggressiveness in asserting its territorial claims in nearly the entire South China Sea. Failure to upgrade will compel the Philippines to turn to its traditional ally, the United States. While help from friends is always welcome, the Philippines should wean itself from its dependence on the American security umbrella. The AFP can speed up the process by making sure that every step of the procurement process in its modernization will be aboveboard.