Prime AFP assets provide for better way to sail, soar, secure the land


UNSURE about where to get funds to fully finance and sustain its ongoing modernization program, the military is looking to dispose of its other prime assets, including its seaside property where the headquarters of the Philippine Navy is currently located, in order to ensure its projects will get moving.

As Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana had earlier admitted, the Covid-19 pandemic has spurred uncertainties in their pursuit of big-ticket projects by taking away capability-upgrade money for, among others, the planned procurement of two corvettes and six offshore patrol vessels for the Navy, and multirole fighter jets for the Philippine Air Force.

For former Navy chief retired Vice Admiral Giovanni Carlo Bacordo, they have seen this problem coming, and as such, they drew up plans during his term to stave off the budgetary crunch by looking at the option of leasing the property where the Navy’s headquarters sit along Roxas Boulevard in Manila.

If this happens, and with the assistance of the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA), the Navy will have to relocate to the Bonifacio Naval Station (BNS) located inside Fort Bonifacio in Taguig City, where the headquarters of the Philippine Marine Corps is also located.

“The lease will only happen as a Navy HQ [headquarters] will be built in BNS. This is also a BCDA project. Before my retirement, I already approved the engineering drawings of the buildings that will be built on BNS,” Bacordo told the BusinessMirror. Bacordo retired from the Navy in June this year.

BCDA mandate

Under Republic Act 7227, the BCDA is mandated to generate funds for the Department of National Defense-Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Modernization Program, primarily through the lease and disposition of military lands, the proceeds of which would be used to finance capability upgrade projects of the military.

Until September this year, the BCDA under the Duterte administration remitted a total of P34.2 billion to the military, which the BCDA noted is “almost triple that of the previous administration and almost double the contributions from 1993 to 2010.”

Since May 1993, the BCDA has remitted a total of P65.5 billion to the Bureau of the Treasury and contributed a total of P46.6 billion to the military.

Armed Forces Northern Luzon Command (NOLCOM) commander Lt. Gen. Arnulfo Marcelo Burgos Jr. and BCDA officials broke ground early this year for the new facilities of the Army Support Command (ASCOM) in its upcoming new home — a 29.8-hectare lot located inside the sprawling NOLCOM property at Camp Aquino in Tarlac.

The ASCOM will relocate its headquarters to the P1.5-billion facilities inside the NOLCOM from its current headquarters in Fort Bonifacio in order to give way to the 33.13-hectare Bonifacio South Pointe Property located inside Fort Bonifacio. The latter is a joint venture project of the BCDA and SM Prime Holdings Inc.

Of the 33.13 hectares of prime lot in Bonifacio, around 11.5 hectares are currently occupied by the ASCOM as well as the Service Support Unit (SSU) and the Division Administrative Command Center (DACC), all under the Army.

Bacordo said the Navy has no problem vacating its current headquarters if only to ensure that it can pursue and finance its modernization plans and programs, especially the acquisition of brand new and much-needed floating assets.

“The headquarters, Philippine Navy, since this a command-and-control [office], doesn’t need to be in Manila Bay. . . . and the prime property can be up for a long-term lease to finance the Navy’s modernization project,” he said.

Aside from the lot being occupied by the Navy headquarters, Bacordo said that the Navy during his leadership had also eyed the leasing of other property, including Bacoor Bay, which the Navy took possession of through Presidential Proclamation 88 signed by former President Diosdado Macapagal on March 2, 1963.

“This is about 90 percent submerged, and it is about 66 hectares.  There are many firms that are offering to do the reclamation and they’ll go on for a long-term lease,” he said.  “We have proposed this to the Secretary of National Defense, to identify naval real estate which has no strategic value to us, have it long-term leased, and this way,  we can sustain a modern navy.”

One of those interested to do the reclamation on Bacoor Bay and leasing it was a group from Singapore, Bacordo said, but did not name it.

“We have made several discussions with the Singapore group as of my retirement. They are interested to a long-term lease,” he said.

The retired Navy chief, however, considered a “long shot” the leasing of the Navy headquarters and the reclamation of the Bacoor Bay, given the processes such would entail.

Hanjin shipyard

While it reels from the budgetary effect of the Covid-19, the Navy has not given up still on its pursuit of acquiring and occupying a portion of the facility of the bankrupt Korean shipbuilder Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction (HHIC) in Subic Bay.

The Navy is eyeing to occupy at least 100 hectares or one third of the whole Hanjin shipyard facility, which it would transform into a harbor for its big warships and other upcoming brand new floating assets. It also plans to relocate there its Philippine Fleet, which is currently based in Sangley Point, Cavite; as well as its Naval Sea Systems Command, the Naval Installation Command and the Amphibious Assault Battalion.

“As of my retirement, the ball was in DOF’s [Department of Finance] court. What was being finalized are the finer details like 25 years or 50 years ‘rent’ of the Philippine Navy; chargeability? How much from the PN budget? From BCDA modernization funds?” Bacordo said

“I was even expecting the signing last June,” he said.

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