The President of the Philippines has pledged to bring his military’s capabilities up to respectable levels; however, citizens of the country remain highly skeptical that military improvements can effectively be made given the country’s history of corruption associated with military spending.
Amidst an active maritime border dispute with China, President Benigno Aquino III promised to increase the defense capabilities of his country so that the Philippines can properly defend its sovereignty.
He announced that over 30 helicopters, several ships and stocks of weapons would be purchased by the Philippines in the next two years. China has aggressively expanded their military spending in the past half-decade, and correspondingly initiated several maritime-border disputes as it makes a play to dominate Southeast Asian seas.
The specific dispute with the Philippines is over what China refers to as the South China Sea, and what Filipinos call the West Philippine Sea. China has recently allowed their patrol boats in the region to detain, board and commandeer any vessels it deems violating its maritime territory. There have been reported but unconfirmed instances of minor skirmishes occurring between Chinese and Filipino vessels in the area.
While many believe bolstering their defense capabilities to be a good move for the Philippines, the biggest challenge facing this initiative comes from internal corruption in the military. The government has spent over $45 million USD in the past two decades on military improvements, but much of that sum is either missing or unaccounted for.
There have been several confirmed cases of major corruption occurring during that time period. A $55 million USD grant from the United States went entirely missing, while a former military comptroller stands accused of stealing $7 million from state funds.
But all theft hasn’t been so obvious– military officials are often far too close to civilians who stand to gain economically from defense spending. There have been numerous instances of the military astly over-paying arms dealers with close ties to high-up officials for firearms, helicopters or other equipment.
As many of these stories have only recently come to light, many people are left wondering if these recent scandals are just the tip of the iceberg. Until Filipino civilians are convinced that the money won’t be misspent, it remains difficult for them to get behind any effort to bolster the defense capabilities of this archipelago, which is facing piracy threats, and being the target of unilateral aggression from other nations.
But because the situation is so urgent, the efforts will likely proceed anyway. The question remains, however– will the attempt be a clean one? If the answer is no, the Philippines will only be able to progress as far as their top-officials’ greed lets them.