On the self-reliant defense posture bill

By Michael Henry Yusingco, LL.M

Seems only logical for the government to drastically improve our national defense capability given the military’s shift to focus on external threats. Of course, this fundamentally means getting ourselves ready for war. Hence, it is still prudent to probe the timing of proceeding along this path.

In a way, President Bongbong Marcos has provided the justification for this move in his speech commemorating Araw ng Kagitingan last April 9. He said, “82 years on, our nation remains confronted with novel challenges, in varying forms and degrees, but with the same existential impact. Some portend clear and present threats to our sovereign rights, and in fact have already caused physical harm to our people.”

President Marcos himself previously warned that war may eventuate not necessarily due to a calculated decision made by an enemy state. Armed conflict can potentially happen because of the sheer recklessness of a sailor just having a bad day. Hence, preparations for war must start now.

Currently, there are two bills that aim to advance our national defense capability. Senate Bill No.  2455 (Self-Reliant Defense Posture Revitalization Act) and House Bill No. 9713 (Philippine Self-Reliant Defense Posture Program Act). Both bills have been approved on third and final reading.

SB No. 2455 mandates the government “to develop the defense industry and its capability to locally produce advanced weaponry and equipment for its armed forces through technology transfer, partnerships with and incentivizing the private sector.”

HB No. 9713 commands the state “to promote and spur the growth of an independent national defense by establishing a self-reliant defense posture program that shall prioritize the development of the country’s national defense capabilities, including a competent domestic defense industry.”

The envisioned law aims to establish a defense industry which shall be the foundation for building a potent national defense force. The complexity of the law cannot be properly discussed in such a limited space. But there is one matter that needs to be raised to ensure its proper implementation.

The institutionalization of a self-reliant defense posture policy involves the disposition of a significant amount of public funds. The annual utilization of a huge chunk of the national budget for defense would be unavoidable in this kind of national security regime.

Naturally, graft and corruption will be a major concern. Justified or not, this will always be top of mind for many Filipinos, especially for taxpayers given the substantial financial load they must bear.

The public’s fear that public officials will exploit the self-reliant defense program to fatten their wallets cannot be totally eliminated, but it can be allayed a little bit if there are palpable integrity measures in the law. For instance, a provision setting up a freedom-of-information (FOI) mechanism.

Admittedly, FOI is still an unusual governance concept for us. But given the reforms required by this initiative, this may actually be a welcome innovation. At the very minimum, the incorporation of a process providing access to civil society, albeit in a limited scale, can offer a certain measure of confidence to the public that transactions made under the ambit of bolstering our national defense are above board.

The presence of an FOI proviso in the law also means that the flow of information is determined by the custodian of sensitive data. It provides a channel for proper distribution of facts and figures, but it is also a tool to defend against the unlawful use and acquisition of the same.

A self-reliant defense posture law is expected to be passed within the year. If our political leaders are dead serious in bringing the country’s national defense capability up to par with regional neighbors, then they should do everything they can to assure the public that graft and corruption will no longer be able to undermine this effort.

For as long as the public’s anxiety is not addressed, then national security will always be compromised.