Friday, July 9, 2010


The Philippines is expending a lot of political capital in Washington DC to help fund its internal wars.

The combined effects of the US recession, greater focus on human rights and reduced threat from the Abu Sayyaf, among others, appear to have shifted the Obama administration’s priorities in the Philippines.

In fact, the State Department has, for years, tried to trim military aid to the Philippines.

Total aid to the Philippines is expected to grow from about $115 million in 2008 to over $124 million this year, according to congressional records.

But military aid, primarily in the form of Foreign Military Financing (FMF) has been steadily falling from $164 million in 2005 to $30 million last year to a proposed $15 million for the coming fiscal year.

Actually, the Philippine military could have gotten less than half of what it did last year were it not for the intervention of key US allies on Capitol Hill, including Hawaii Senator Daniel Inouye who chairs the powerful appropriations committee.

Thanks to intense lobbying, and with the help of groups like Covington & Burling, military aid was kept at 2008 levels and the $2 million conditional aid – to encourage the Arroyo administration to address the problem of unsolved political killings – was excluded from the amount.

The State Department wants to use more of the aid for development assistance, health and education improvements, and food security.

They proposed, for instance, to spend almost $13 million for basic education, $17.5 million for family planning and reproductive health assistance, $5 million for developing clean energy, etc.

Funds for development assistance are expected to grow from about $28 million in 2008 to over $70 million this year, based on records.

Despite a protracted war with the New People’s Army and Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the Philippines has historically had one of the lowest defense spending in the region.

A 2009 study by the Journal of Sustainable Development showed Philippine military expenditure as a percentage of GDP dropped from 1.4 % in 1995 to 0.9 % in 2005. On the other hand, Indonesian military spending was 1.2 % of GDP in 2005, Singapore’s 4.7 % and Malaysia, 2.4 %.

That has forced the Armed Forces of the Philippines to rely on US military assistance. When US bases were still operating in the country, the US paid for up to 80 % of the AFP’s procurement, operations and maintenance expenses.

The Philippines has spent billions to wage its wars and after over 40 years of bloody conflict, it is perhaps time to re-ask the question – have we been any better off or more secure from it?

The military claims they have reduced the number of NPAs from a peak of 25,000 in the 1980s to about 5,000 scattered in 60 guerilla fronts across the country today.

The former AFP chief’s assurance that they’d eradicate the NPAs before former President Arroyo steps down last month was typical of the false bravado that has characterized the succession of military counter-insurgency campaigns.

Soldiers have done their worst against the “enemy” – be they NPAs, MILFs or ASGs and sadly, they’re still around.

As President Aquino charts his own course to resolving these overdrawn, dragged out conflicts, he should see that the stalemate can only be broken with a new brand of socio-economic and political blitzkrieg.

Perhaps he can draw inspiration from his own father’s feats at the height of the Huk threat.

As the US Congress deliberates on future assistance for the Philippines, perhaps it’s time to stop asking for more money for fighting, and instead insist on more money for building.

The man the people chose to bring change could perhaps use a little of that to pursue a new solution in lieu of the tired, old strategy that hasn’t worked for nearly half a century.

It's time for a little "smart power". It's clean, renewable and we don't have to keep asking America to get more of it.

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