DND seeks ways to cut spending without compromising national security

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 4) — The Department of National Defense (DND) said it will find ways to reduce its expenses this year without compromising national security in order to help fund the government's COVID-19 response.

But Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana stressed that shifting funds away from the multi-billion peso armed forces modernization program is out of the question.

"There are no projects to be sacrificed," Lorenzana told CNN Philippines on Sunday, when asked if future procurements of big-ticket defense imports will be put on hold, in response to President Duterte's belt-tightening measures amid the pandemic.

"But we have funds that we can return to DBM (Department of Budget and Management)," he said.

"[Examples are] unobligated funds of prior years and travel expense allocation this year," Lorenzana said. "Obviously there will be very little or no travel this year."

The revised military modernization program is divided into three phases or horizons: 2013 to 2017 (Horizon 1), 2018 to 2022 (Horizon 2) and 2023 to 2028 (Horizon 3).

A DND spokesman was quoted in 2018 as saying that among the equipment to be acquired under Horizon 2, include at least one (diesel-electric) submarine and multi-role fighter aircraft.

"We are still scouting our budget for any that we could return without jeopardizing our operations specially the AFP," Lorenzana said.

Thanks, but no thanks

Lorenzana's statement came as the U.S. State Department announced last week it gave the go-signal for the possible sale of attack helicopters to the Philippines.

Wire reports and defense blogs quoted the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) as saying that the U.S. is offering to sell to the Philippines six of either of these attack helicopters: Bell's AH-1Z Viper (estimated cost at P22.8 billion) or Boeing's AH-64E Apache Guardian (estimated cost at P76 billion).

"We appreciate the gesture of the State department but the PAF (Philippine Air Force) has already chosen their preferred attack [helicopter]," Lorenzana said. "They chose the Turkish (T129) ATAK [helicopter]."

Details of the possible deal for the purchase of the ATAK helicopters are still unclear, but Lorenzana has been quoted as saying that the project cost is a major factor, implying that the Turkish suppliers' offer are lower than its American counterparts.

Reports, however, said that while the Turkish-made choppers are cheaper, its suppliers are having a tough time acquiring U.S. license for some of its components, subsequently delaying the project to move forward.

"The contract [with the Turkish supplier] has not been signed as we deal with issues on the contract itself," Lorenzana said.