Senators push sustained funding for SRDP amid sea dispute

(BUSINESS MIRROR) Citing the “continuing foreign harassment and recent incursions on Philippine waters and within [the Philippine] Exclusive Economic Zone,” the chairman of the Senate defense panel on Wednesday pushed for sustained funding and support for the country’s Self-Reliance Defense Posture (SRDP) program.

In sponsoring in plenary the committee report on the SRDP, Senator Jinggoy Estrada said, “it is imperative that we build up our arsenal and naval fleet—not to provoke further hostilities—but to maintain a respectable and credible defense posture that can effectively deter aggression and defend our territorial domain.”

He got solid backing from Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri, who made a manifestation that “90 percent of our defense needs have to be bought abroad,” in batting for more indigenous investments in the defense sector. While Philippines’ allies have been helpful in past crisis, “We can’t depend just on our allies,” said Zubiri, noting how then President Rodrigo Duterte had to “beg” for military hardware to fight the terrorists who laid siege to Marawi in 2017.

As chair of the Senate Committee on National Defense and Security, Peace, Unification and Reconciliation, Estrada pushed for “important legislation that will fortify our defenses against present and future security challenges and provide the essential and meaningful support to our valiant men and women who risk their life and limb to preserve peace and secure our territory.”

Senate Bill No. 2455 under Committee Report No. 153 authored by Zubiri, Senate President Pro Tempore Loren Legarda, Majority Floor Leader Sen. Joel Villanueva, Sen. Ramon Bong Revilla Jr., Sen. Imee Marcos and this Estrada is a priority measure identified under the Philippine Development Plan 2023-2028 and by the Legislative Executive Development Advisory Council or LEDAC.

The Self-Reliant Defense Posture bill aims to ensure adequate defense assets and hardware for the country through domestic production and manufacturing, the development of a national defense industry, and lessening our dependence on foreign and overseas suppliers, Estrada explained.

He cited testimony at the Senate hearings by the Department of National Defense (DND) that “majority of our defense acquisitions are government-to-government procurements.” In 2022, he added, military-related imports amounted to $305 million, while arms-related exports amounted only to $85 million.

“We aim to cure this significantly lopsided trade imbalance by providing incentives and government support to local defense industry, and in the process stimulate job generation, promote transfer of advanced technologies, and expand our exports sector.”

He added: “As we have all learned from this pandemic, the safest and most reliable source of the nation’s needs is the domestic one.”

“This representation firmly believes that we have enough resources we need in our midst—manpower assets, natural resources, and Filipino ingenuity forged by our long history and tradition of seafaring and craftsmanship. No doubt, we have the capability to develop our own. We just have to throw our full support and lay down policies that will catalyze its growth, and exercise political will and strategic foresight to sustain its development.”

The Philippines’ Southeast Asian neighbors like Indonesia and Singapore, “already have their own defense industries, and their relatively modest military-industrial complexes are slowly expanding with heavy investments, and finding their niche in the global defense market,” Estrada pointed out. Others, he added, “found renewed interest and saw the wisdom behind nurturing their own indigenous arms manufacturing, in the face of regional tensions and political realignments.”

The SRDP program is actually not new. The pending Senate measure seeks to revitalize the SRDP program, which was initially conceived and implemented during the 1970s. Estrada quoted his committee’s vice chair, Sen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, as saying in the hearings that in his younger years as cadet, the country already had a facility for making missiles, mini cruisers, and indigenous military transport.

Sen. Imee Marcos, in submitting her own version of the SRDP bill, “also remembered with much pride that her father’s SRDP program was able to manufacture armaments such as M16 rifle, 60mm Mortar tube, 81mm Mortar Tube and gun barrels, ammunitions, hand grenade MKII, and 81mm Mortar ammunition, and that the country was able to produce vehicles like the jiffy jeeps, mini cruisers, hovercraft, speed boats, and whale boat,” Estrada said.

The early years of the SRDP program successfully met the basic requirements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) through joint ventures and partnerships with the private sector. It produced all-terrain light vehicles, radio for the operating troops, rifles, pistols and small arms ammunition, and textile industry that supplied close to 100 percent of AFP’s clothing requirements.

In the 1980s, “SRDP had contributed significantly in improving the fill-up of AFP’s basic weapons, ammunitions, tactical communication sets, and mobility equipment.”

However, the senator lamented, the program was eventually hobbled by “tightened defense appropriations, lack of prescience, and discontinuity of long-term horizon planning.”

Under the Senate bill, the SRDP program shall be designed to:

•             Prioritize local employment and contribute to foreign currency exchange savings;

•             Incentivize manufacturers to establish or relocate production or assembly of materiel in the Philippines, while ensuring protection of local counterparts against unfair competition;

•             Promote technology transfer;

•             Drive proactive research and development efforts and the adoption of innovative technologies; and

•             Promote the export of locally made materiel to other countries.

Finally, the bill “proposes rationalization of defense acquisition by providing preferential terms to domestic suppliers and in-country enterprises, under the ambit of Filipino First policy,” Estrada said.