By Christina Mendez and Marvin Sy (The Philippine Star)http://www.philstar.com/Article.aspx?articleId=553336&publicationSubCategoryId=63
MANILA, Philippines - Nacionalista Party standard-bearer Sen. Manuel Villar vowed yesterday to use savings from a successful anti-corruption drive for modernizing the Armed Forces if he is elected, saying the current budget of P5 billion for the program is not enough.
Villar said that if the government manages to recover at least 10 percent of the P250 billion lost to corruption every year, the military would have enough funds to modernize.
The NP presidential candidate made the promise a day after his visit to detained Col. Ariel Querubin at the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City.
Querubin, a senatorial bet under the NP, has been under military custody since 2006 in connection with the Marine standoff at Fort Bonifacio on Feb. 26 in the same year.
Querubin and some junior Marine officers as well as the Magdalo Group led by detained Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV had denounced high-scale corruption in the AFP.
“If we can curb this purported corruption in the military by at least 50 percent, we can generate savings that could be channeled to the purchase of the basic needs of soldiers in the field like combat boots, combat rations and ammunition,” he said.
Villar said he was disturbed by allegations that a big chunk of the budget intended for the soldiers’ needs “goes to the pockets of some unscrupulous military officials.”
He also lamented reports of defective equipment and ammunitions supplied to foot soldiers in the field.
Villar said the current defense spending is only for “patching up the AFP’s antiquated land, air and water assets.”
He cited the ageing fleet of the Philippine Air Force whose aircraft have gained notoriety for being “flying coffins” and “widow makers.”
If elected, Villar said he would send to Congress a “meaty” AFP modernization fund “that will be promptly released and properly spent.”
“I am thinking of allocating 10 percent of the annual VAT (value added tax) revenue for a replacement program of military ships, aircraft and other hardware,” he said.
This, he said, translates to a minimum P15 billion “annual fund to replace flying and floating coffins with modern assets.”
“In addition, we can explore barter arrangements in which Philippine-made products can be exchanged for military hardware,” he said.
Villar stressed that the government should explore other sources of military hardware, “and not just look at that giant arms mall that is the United States.”
Villar said he believes rationalizing expenditures can help the AFP save and spend enough for modernization.
“I have been told that there are ways in which we can cut multibillion-peso annual POL (petroleum oil and lubricant) budget and send whatever is saved to the men in the field,” he said.
Villar also defended himself from criticism that he was spending lavishly for advertising, saying it’s the radio and television stations that had been charging exorbitantly.
Their expenses are high because television stations charge high, Villar told reporters during the Katropa concert organized by his daughter Camille at the SM Mall of Asia in Pasay City Thursday night.
Critics and political foes said Villar’s ratings have improved due to his massive spending.
A recent report by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, citing data from media monitoring agency AGB Nielsen Media Research, revealed that the total advertising values for TV, radio, and print of just six of the 10 presidential candidates have already reached more than P2 billion.
The ads covered those shown from Nov. 1, 2009 to Jan. 31, 2010, before the campaign period officially kicked off on Feb. 9.
About half of that figure represents the ad buys of Villar, even though a presidential candidate’s maximum campaign expenditure is limited to only P500 million, or P10 per voter. A political party may, however, spend another P5 per voter, or P250 million.
Villar also said he felt hurt by the smear campaign against him but admitted two of his opponents “play like gentlemen” and deserve his respect. The two are administration candidate Gilbert Teodoro Jr. and evangelist Eddie Villanueva of Bangon Pilipinas.
“Among the players, I’m now perceived to be the biggest threat.”
No believer of destiny
In Lipa, Batangas, Villar declared he is no believer in destiny in his fight for the country’s highest position.
Villar said some of his opponents have come to believe that the presidency is their birthright.
Villar was reacting to a pronouncement by his closest rival, Liberal Party’s Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, who told a huge crowd of supporters on Thursday that it is his destiny to bring victory to the people by winning in the May elections.
“They feel that it is their destiny, like it is their birthright. But I still believe that it should be the people who should decide this,” Villar said.
“It may be time for our people, especially the poor, to demand change and an end to this birthright, birthright thing,” he said.
“It is also time that a candidate from the ranks of the poor and not the hacienderos or son of a president is given the right to lead the country,” he added.
Villar said that ordinary people have to work hard to get ahead in life and not depend on destiny.
“We don’t believe in birthright or destiny, but only in hard work. The problem with some people is that they feel they are the only ones who have a right to lead our country and the poor have no right to this,” he said.
In the latest Pulse Asia survey, Villar secured 35 percent of the votes of the respondents next to Aquino’s 37 percent.
In December’s Social Weather Stations survey, Villar got only 20 percent as against Aquino’s 47 percent