MANILA - Senior leaders of the Department of National Defense (DND) are lobbying for the approval of President Benigno Aquino III to realign the P6.5 billion Shore-Based Missile System (SBMS), an item identified for territorial defense to counter China’s threat, to internal security items for the Army, according to documents obtained by InterAksyon.com.
The mobile SBMS is part of the Army’s “big-ticket items” and included in the 1st Horizon Project List in the Revised Armed Forces of the Philippines Modernization Program (RAFPMP) approved by Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin.
But defense insiders said the realignment of the project did not pass through the Defense Capability Assessment and Planning Systems (DCAPS) and the Defense System of Management (DSOM), established defense frameworks as provided for by the Defense Acquisition System (DAS) as a policy.
What happens to ‘minimum credible defense’?
If not justified, they warned, the proponents of the realignment may face multiple legal charges and face jail terms.
They said the project is a government-to-government negotiated deal with the Israel Military Industries Ltd. that happened in at least two conferences with DND officials in December 2014.
They also stressed that the realignment of the SBMS negates the President’s promise for the AFP to have a “minimum credible defense” posture before he steps down form office in 2016.
The supplier was waiting for the awarding of the contract when Army chief Lieutenant General Hernando DCA Irriberi suddenly requested for a realignment of the missile system project.
On 5 March 2015, Gazmin, in a letter to Aquino, sought the approval of 28 RAFPMP projects with a total budget of P60,143,404,181, which includes the SBMS. This was after the President, on February 17, ordered the DND to review all the projects and to make sure these, particularly the SBMS, will not violate the Convention on Cluster Munitions.
But Irriberi wrote an undated letter in May to AFP chief of staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. seeking his approval to re-align the SBMS.
“The Philippine Army presented the need to adjust the 2015 acquisition of Shore-Based Missile System…This is due to the rapid change in the internal security landscape brought about by the issues on the Bangsamoro Basic Law and the prevalent use of IED (improvised explosive device) of the threat groups that inflicted significant casualties on our troops. The emerging security situation is further driven by the continuous military operations against the BIFF (Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters) and ASG (Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG),” Irriberi said in the letter.
The BBL, although still to be passed into law by Congress, has already started the decommissioning of both fighters and arms of the much bigger rebel organization, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Irriberi further explained that the Army as end-user saw the importance of the SBMS for the country’s territorial defense in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) but soldiers involved in internal security operations need more individual protective gears “in view of the of clear, present, and continuing occurrences of terrorist acts perpetrated by enemies of the state.”
Irriberi, who has less than a year remaining in the service as he is to retire April next year, said the Army is not letting go of the SBMS acquisition. He said it would not be realized under his term as Army chief but may be included in the 2nd Horizon (2018-2022) project list of the RAFPMP.
In his new list, Irriberi wants the SBMS to be replaced with the following items:
832 pieces of Designated Marksman Rifles worth P149,760,000 at P180,000 each
32 Long Range Sniper Weapon Systems worth P17,280,000 at P540,000 each
11,000 Night Fighting Systems worth P2,750,000,000 at P250,000 each
39,889 Body Armors worth P1,356,226,000 at P34,000 each
81,449 Helmets worth P1,221,735,000 at P15,000 each
2 Lots of CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear) Equipment worth P103,402,234.50 with total unit cost of P51,701,117.25
150 Radio, 20W HF (Man Pack) worth P233,536,382.50 at P1,490,242.55 each
3,185 Radio, 2-5W VHF (Handheld) worth P678,060,383 at P212,891.80 each
In a letter to Gazmin, Catapang approved Irriberi’s request for the SBMS realignment on 18 May 2015.
On 10 June 2015, defense senior leaders led by Gazmin have approved the scrapping of the SBMS and moved to present and seek approval of Aquino during a meeting on June 15 at Malacanang.
Defense sources told InterAksyon.com that, at first, Aquino balked at the suggestion for the realignment of the SBMS.
“But in principle, PNoy has approved the realignment and ordered the senior leaders to justify why the Army has to procure the 832 rifles worth P149.7 million amid the procurement of up to 65,000 M4 rifles from Remington and other related rifles for the Army,” a source said.
Recalled for defective parts
The brand new rifles worth almost P2 billion have been recalled from use for defective parts such as the barrel and sights. The DND had already required the supplier, United States-based Remington Outdoor Company, for corrective measures to avoid termination of the contract.
Military officials who criticized the realignment but requested anonymity because they are not authorized to speak on the matter said the realignment of the SBMS is “highly irregular” and “dubious” on intent.
“These officers and defense senior leaders behind the scrapping of the SBMS had just railroaded the DAS (Defense Acquisition System) particularly circumventing the DCAPS (Defense Capability Assessment and Planning Systems) and DSOM (Defense System of Management). They’re inviting trouble for themselves,” a senior officer said.
He also questioned Irriberi’s request for the purchase of new 39,889 body armors worth P1.3 billion when the DND-Bids and Awards Committee has already awarded the purchase of 44,080 units worth P1.6 billion (not P1.4 billion as earlier reported) from JV of Archidatex (Israel) and Collorado Shipping.
“Is Irriberi trying to garb every soldier of the 80,000-strong Army with body armor including his self and those working in offices?” another senior officer asked.
Unfortunately, the DND has yet to voluntarily give an update about the Achidatex and Collorado’s compliance on the delivery of the ballistic vests as their request for 120-day extension had already lapsed on June 29.
Based on the contract, which the DND-BAC awarded in 2013, the supplier was supposed to deliver the first tranche of 20,000 units on 26 February 2015, but it failed to do so.
It can be recalled the bidding was then marred with controversy after the DND-BAC disqualified Kolon Global Corporation of South Korea despite its lowest bidding price. Kolon filed protests, but to no avail.
And why does the Army have to buy another 11,000 Night Fighting Systems worth P2.7 billion when the DND-BAC had currently in a bidding process that only started last 31 March 2015 to buy 4,464 units of NFS worth P1.1 billion?
“For the sake of argument, not every elite soldier involved in special operations during night has to wear NFS. Up to three NFS-equipped soldiers for every platoon are enough, not all of them have to wear that,” a combat-tested member of the Scout Ranger revealed, also on condition of anonymity.