AN AERIAL VIEW of the BRP Sierra Madre at the contested Second Thomas Shoal on March 9, 2023. — REUTERS

By Kenneth Christiane L. Basilio

THE HOUSE of Representatives is open to increasing the budget of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) so it can better defend the country amid tensions with China, congressmen said on Wednesday.

“For everything happening in the West Philippine Sea… it’s only imperative and logical that we also assess the military capability of our country,” Party-list Rep. Jude A. Acidre told a news briefing in mixed English and Filipino. “It’s time to discuss how we can fast-track (the military’s modernization).”

The National Security Council (NSC) on Tuesday urged Congress to boost AFP funding so it could implement its modernization program and ensure territorial integrity.

“We hope that Congress will continue to allocate the necessary funds to implement Horizon III of the Armed Forces modernization program, which is critical in the implementation of the Comprehensive Archipelagic Defense Concept recently approved by the President,” National Security Adviser Eduardo M. Año said in a statement on Tuesday.

The government of President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. wants to further develop the country’s ability to protect its territorial and sovereign seas by operationalizing its sea lanes and territories.

The House will discuss the budgets of the different agencies in August to October.

Mr. Acidre said the military would be given a chance to explain which specific programs need bigger funding.

The government should allot at least 5% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) to defense spending, Deputy Speaker and Quezon Rep. David C. Suarez told the same briefing.

Increasing defense spending should not affect the budgets for education and health, Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco, a senior research fellow at the Ateneo de Manila University Policy Center, said in a Facebook Messenger chat.

The 1987 Constitution mandates the state to “assign the highest budgetary priority” to education spending.

“It is necessary that we invest heavily in defense for obvious reasons,” Mr. Suarez said.

Tensions between the Philippines and China have worsened in the past year as Beijing continues to block resupply missions to Second Thomas Shoal, where Manila grounded a World War II-era ship in 1999 to assert its sovereignty.

A United Nations-backed tribunal based in the Hague in 2016 voided China’s expansive claims in the South China Sea for being illegal.

Modernizing the country’s military does not mean escalating tensions with China, Mr. Suarez said. “What we want is to ensure that every Filipino is secure and that we can defend our sovereignty.”

Increasing the military budget would also improve the country’s anti-insurgency operations and disaster management response, Mr. Acidre said.

Mr. Yusingco said enacting the Self-reliant Defense Posture bill would help enhance the country’s defense capabilities. “Increasing the budget of the AFP without this law will do little to establish a sustainable plan to improve our defense capabilities.”

The AFP and Defense department should come up with a comprehensive acquisition plan to prevent corruption, he added.