Rep. Rozanno Rufino Biazon (Lone District, Muntinlupa City) sponsored the DND’s proposed appropriation which is P7.5 billion higher than its current 2017 budget of P137.2 billion.
Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate (Party-list, Bayan Muna) asked clarification about the plan of the DND to demobilize the Citizens Armed Force Geographical Unit (CAFGU) in view of the implementation of the revised AFP Modernization Program.
“What are the prospects of the gradual demobilization of the CAFGUs?" Zarate asked.
Biazon said the AFP has not abandoned its plan to demobilize the CAFGUs.
He explained that the disbandment of the said paramilitary unit will depend on the security situation in the countryside.
Moreover, Biazon said the CAFGU serves as a force multiplier to the AFP personnel in addressing the insurgencies in the rural areas.
“Hindi naman po nawawala sa layunin ng AFP ang pag-demobilize ng CAFGUs. Yun nga lamang, ito ay magaganap kung makamit na natin yung ideal situation sa ating countryside,” Biazon said.
“As we all know, there are still forces, enemies of the state, who are still operating in the countryside which necessitates the operation of these CAFGUs,” Biazon further said.
On the West Philippine Sea issue, Zarate asked if the DND is considering countering China’s aggressive activities in the disputed territory.
Biazon replied that the action to be taken by the AFP will depend on the country’s strategic direction.
“The AFP is ready to act on whatever orders are given to them. It would also depend on the policy makers to lead them to the right direction. But they are prepared to take action when needed,” Biazon said.
Biazon stressed “The Armed Forces is not abandoning its role in guarding our territorial integrity."
Zarate also asked about the issue of the facilities that the United States is planning to construct in the military bases of the country, namely, Basa Air Base, Bautista Air Base, and Lumbia Airport in Cagayan de Oro City, amounting to $66 million, in line with the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).
He said that the P124 million counterpart fund that the AFP allocated in the construction of the said facilities will just be used by the U.S. in continuously promoting its self-interest in Southeast Asia.
“Why insist on providing a counterpart fund when it is for the use of the U.S.?" Zarate said.
Biazon explained that the said military bases remain to be owned by the Philippines. He said the bases’ use is based on an agreement which can be terminated.
“Yung paggastos natin ay di naman siguro masasabing sayang dahil kahit paano, ang ating pakikipag-ugnayan at pakikipag-tulungan sa mga Amerikano ay nagbubunga rin ng benepisyo sa atin,” Biazon said.
Rep. Edcel Lagman (1st District, Albay) asked about the amount spent by the DND and AFP since Day 1 of the Marawi Crisis, items in the expenditure, projection of the upcoming expenses until the expiration of Martial Law in Mindanao by December 31 this year and whether military reservists are mobilized for the armed conflict, among others.
Biazon said the DND already spent around P2.8 billion and provided details of the expenditure: mobilization of reservists, P29 million; medicines and medical supplies, P25 million; ammunition, P1.9 billion; fuel oil and lubricants, P221,000; and other MOOE, P583 million.
He said the reservists did not serve as combatants, but only provided additional security and support to the government forces.
Biazon underscored that the P2.8 billion that had been spent is the cost of protecting national security and national integrity.
“We could just imagine the staggering amount of loss that we would have acquired if we did not put control and order in Marawi. The P2.8 billion is worth it,” Biazon stressed.
Asked by Lagman if Marawi City would be as devastated as it is now if Martial Law was not declared, Biazon replied that whether Martial Law was declared or not, the devastation as well as the level of fighting and determination of the terrorists to make a statement by taking over the city, would still be the same.
Biazon emphasized that one advantage of declaring Martial Law in Mindanao is that the terror the Maute group wanted to spread was contained in Marawi City.
House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez (3rd District, Quezon), meanwhile, decried the average utilization rate of the DND budget at 84.25 percent, which he said is discomforting.
Biazon said that the DND has improved its spending this year.
On the issue of the number of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) members in the country, Suarez pointed out that the Indonesian authorities have said there are around 1,200 while Philippine defense officials claimed there are only between 250 to 400 members.
“Clearly there was an underestimation since there were already members of the Maute killed in Marawi as of August 31, 2017. How come the DND was not able to obtain this estimate?" Suarez asked.
Biazon clarified that the statement of the Indonesian official was sweeping in the sense the official’s count included the different armed groups which are operating in the country.
Biazon also said that the figure cited by the DND is focused on the Maute/ISIS group.
Suarez proposed to the DND to come up with two intelligence funds for its 2018 budget, one for the use of the entire command, distributed to the three services, namely, the Philippine Army, Philippine Air Force, and the Philippine Navy; and another, a special operation fund that should be given to the battalion level.
Suarez also raised concerns on the situation in Marawi City as well as issues related to the country’s defense and security.