Senate panel reviews law on AFP amid ‘unrest’

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SENATORS are determined to complete amendatory legislation on a nine-month-old law professionalizing the military amid recent reports of unrest within the ranks of uniformed personnel.

Senate Committee on National Defense Chairman Sen. Jinggoy Ejercito Estrada presided at Tuesday’s hybrid hearing on Senate Bill Nos.9 (SBN) 1601 and 1603 which seek to amend Republic Act (RA) 11709, or An Act Strengthening Professionalism in the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

“With the help of our resource persons, the esteemed members of this body and our dear colleagues, we shall ensure this legislation leads to the professionalization, effective operations and fulfillment of the mandate of our Armed Forces,” Estrada said.

The committee also tackled SBN 1608, or the Free Legal Assistance to Any Officer or Enlisted Personnel of the AFP and the Philippine National Police and SB Nos. 1100 and 1113 seeking to establish the Philippine Air Force Academy (PAFA).

In the same hearing, Sen. Francis “Tol” Tolentino expressed full support to proposals in strengthening the professionalism in the AFP, giving free legal assistance to any officer or enlisted personnel of the AFP and the PNP, and establishing the Philippine Air Force Academy (PAFA).

At the hybrid hearing of the Committee on National Defense and Security, Peace, Unification and Reconciliation, Tolentino reminded everyone that the evolution of the law should be always in accordance with the Constitution.

“Just a reminder to all of us, especially all those in uniform that because of this hearing initiated by the good chairman (Sen. Jinggoy Ejercito Estrada), what we are experiencing is a reminder that the law is not etched in stone, it is evolving, it is in a state of process that should meet the demands and needs of the current period and this is what this hearing is all about.

As long as we abide by the parameters of Article 16, Section 5 of the Constitution, we are in good hands,” Tolentino said. “I support this initiative as long as it will be for the good of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and our country at large,” he added.

Meanwhile, newly-appointed Defense Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. attended the public hearing on bills seeking to amend RA 11709, which prescribes a fixed three-year term for senior military officers.

Galvez said the proposed amendments would address the gaps and “unintended consequences” of the law’s implementation.

“As the newly-appointed Defense Chief, it is my duty to constructively look out for our troops’ welfare, and one of them is to ensure a level-playing field where cadet advancement is being taken care of, wherein continuity, stability, meritocracy, inclusiveness and sense of kindness will be the highest form of governance,” Galvez assured.

At the same time, Galvez underscored the need to amend RA 11709 in order to address the uneasiness and demotivation within the ranks of the AFP, which some quarters see as resulting from the implementation of the law.

For his part, Sen. Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go assured he supports the proposals to amend RA 11709 and setting up the PAFA.

Go reminded everyone that the AFP is the life blood of the country’s defense and security and, therefore, should be given legislative and moral support at all times.

“We must strive to keep up with the potentials and commendations from our military and uniformed personnel to revisit policies that will remain responsive to the needs of the military,” Go said.

The senator earlier filed a bill seeking to provide free legal assistance to AFP and PNP officers because they are the frontliners against criminals, particularly against drug syndicates and terrorists.

For his part, Sen. Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa also affirmed support for  the DND position to amend RA 11709.