URGES GOV'T TO AGGRESSIVELY PURSUE SELF-RELIANT, MODERNIZATION PROGRAM
LEGAZPI CITY -- Sen. Chiz Escudero said yesterday that the ongoing RP-US Balikatan military exercises in Bicol reveal the decrepit state of the country's armed forces.
"The Balikatan has exposed the AFP's limited capacity to transport troops to battle areas and conduct humanitarian missions in disaster zones due to the lack of helicopters and other vital equipment," he said.
"We cannot forever rely on handouts from the United States. The government should put more money in research and development so we can develop our own capability. This way we can create jobs for our people," Escudero said.
The opposition senator met with three top military officers led by Maj. Gen. Ruperto Pabustan in Camp Ola, Legazpi City to take up concerns regarding the conduct of the month-long joint military exercises in his home region.
Escudero pointed out under the current modernization program, the government bought troop carriers, squad automatic weapons, and bomb protection suits from foreign manufacturers.
"We could have made these equipment ourselves and saved money to be spent for other purposes," he said. "We should look ahead and aggressively pursue a self-reliant modernization program."
In the same meeting, Escudero took up concerns raised by several groups about the controversial Balikatan exercises.
The officers assured the opposition senator, who has called for the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), that US warships involved in the exercises have not affected the livelihood of fishermen.
They also said that the movement of US soldiers has been restricted to hotels, malls, and restaurants and denied reports of "wholesale prostitution."
During the dialogue, Escudero reiterated his position that while the Balikatan exercises temporarily boosts local economies and the skills set of our soldiers, the "social costs far outweigh its benefits.
The Senate is scheduled to take up a resolution next week calling for the termination of the VFA because of onerous provisions that impinge on the country's sovereignty.