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Manila told to boost defense budget amid geopolitical strains

By Beatriz Marie D. Cruz, Reporter

THE PHILIPPINE Congress should increase the country’s defense budget for next year, political analysts said on Tuesday, citing increased tensions in the Asia-Pacific region.

“It is high time that Department of National Defense’s (DND) 2024 budget for military equipment gets an increase given the complexity and volatility of security arrangements in the region,” Chester B. Cabalza, founding president of Manila-based International Development and Security Cooperation, said in a Facebook Messenger chat.

He cited “emerging technological threats that require state-of-the-art equipment, advanced training for officers and personnel and defense facilities needed” in the last phase of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) modernization program.

“Budget increases should also involve a re-rationalization of budgets spent for internal security,” Hansley A. Juliano, a political economy researcher studying at Nagoya University’s Graduate School of International Development in Japan, said in a Messenger chat.

Albay Rep. Jose Ma. Clemente S. Salceda, who heads the House of Representatives ways and means committee, cited the possibility of increasing the defense budget for 2024.

“A fuller picture would help us understand what policy reforms are needed to bolster our defense capabilities,” he said in a statement. “What we really need from the DND is how much would it take to get us to adequate readiness?”

The Defense secretary’s office was given a P1.18-billion budget for 2023, while the military organization itself got P110.33 billion.

Mr. Salceda said a bill that seeks to amend the Official Development Assistance (ODA) law, which the House passed in March, is expected to “accommodate more foreign aid from European countries in the areas of defense.”

Analysts also sought a review of the country’s 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) with the United States that they said is outdated.

“Some of the realities forged when the treaty was crafted have changed, and the rivalry between superpowers in our backyard has become more heightened,” Mr. Cabalza said.

He added that revisions to the treaty should include protection against any attacks on Philippine vessels, including gray ships of the Philippine Navy and Marines, white ships of the Coast Guard, blue ships of the Philippine National Police Maritime Group and commercial vessels owned and operated in the country.

Mr. Juliano said discussions on the MDT require “assurances that external security resources will not be used to once again exploit internal security-related corruption,” citing how the US allegedly aided the dictatorship of the late Ferdinand E. Marcos.

Mr. Salceda said a possible review of the treaty would be raised at committee hearings.

“The US has dramatically expanded its military footprint in the Philippines, so it is important that lawmakers understand how, when and to what extent that presence will be used,” he said.

Mr. Marcos Jr. last month gave the US access to four sites, on top of the five existing locations under their 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), amid China’s increasing assertiveness in the South China Sea.

EDCA was built on the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty and the 1999 visiting forces agreement between the Philippines and US.

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