MANILA, Philippines – Sen.Francis Tolentino asked on Wednesday why, despite rising territorial conflict in the West Philippine Sea, there was no funding for the development of naval chain stations in Batanes and Tawi-Tawi in the national defense budget for 2020.
“I have glanced at the budget of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Department of National Defense (DND), even if the secretary acknowledged during the committee hearing that the new policy is to have small forward operating bases, apparently it is not reflected in the 2020 budget,” Tolentino pointed out during deliberations on the proposed budget of the DND for 2020.
“We have an island in Batanes which is now being manned by our Philippine Marines, a detachment or even bigger than that. We have a small island in Tawi-Tawi. What I saw there was it’s a great strategy but it was not included in the budgetary requirements of the DND,” Tolentino said, speaking partly in Filipino.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who defended the DND’s budget, said the allocation could be requested for the 2021 budget for the allocation of the facilities that Tolentino was referring to.
“Maybe during the budget call for 2021, though they agree with your suggestion that small unit forward bases should really be established, especially in the places that you’ve mentioned earlier — in Batanes and Tawi-Tawi,” Lacson, who was seated among defense officials, said.
“Seriously they would consider asking for the appropriate appropriations or budget to put up the facilities that you are talking about now,” he added.
But Tolentino didn’t want to wait for the next budget to ask for funds.
He noted a number of unannounced Chinese warships passing through territorial waters of the country.
“Several months ago, two naval ships of the People’s Republic of China happened to pass by the area, unannounced and detected after a few days near the Tawi-Tawi island that is now being manned by a Philippine Marines detachment,” he said.
“Kaya ko po ito sinasabi, kung hihintayin pa natin yung 2020 budget call (para sa 2021 budget) baka marami nang dumaan na naman uli na barkong pandigma ang ilang bansa na hindi natin nade-detect,” he added.
“The reason I’m saying this is that are we going to wait until the 2020 budget call [for the 2021 budget], what if there would be more warships that would pass through our waters undetected?” Tolentino went on.
In response, Lacson said: “Let’s see if we can realign whatever necessary appropriations we need to man those two islands… Maybe you [Tolentino] can help me look for some amount to be taken out from some agencies that would not be needing those appropriations,” he said.
Lacson also pointed out that the DND was able to estimate the funds needed to set up and maintain the naval chain stations.
He said, citing DND estimates, it would cost P20 million each to install the facilities and P50 million each year to maintain them.
“They already studied it and they’ll try to look for some funds under their MOOE [maintenance and other operating expenses] if your suggestion could be pushed through,” Lacson said. “You’re right. We should not wait until there’s already another problem of possible incursion and we lose our islands off Batanes and Tawi-Tawi.” (Chris Figueroa)