Armed Forces Overview: The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) consists of a 66,000-member army; a 24,000-member navy, including 7,500 marines; and a 16,000-member air force. Active forces are supplemented by 131,000 reserves. A joint service command covers five military areas. The 6,000-member National Capital Region Command, established in November 2003, is responsible for protecting the government against coup attempts. The president of the republic is commander in chief of the armed forces. The AFP is poorly funded and is armed with antiquated equipment. In 2003 the government moved to replace World War II-era rifles. In addition, only slightly more than half of the Philippines’ naval ships are operational, and only a few air force planes are combat ready. Compounding the problem of inadequate equipment, the AFP’s leadership has been accused of corruption and complicity with insurgent groups, although its primary mission involves counterinsurgency. In July 2003, junior officers staged an unsuccessful coup. The Philippines is the recipient of U.S. military assistance.
Foreign Military Relations: The United States and the Philippines have a mutual defense treaty that has been in effect since 1952, but it does not extend to territorial disputes involving the Spratly Islands. In 2003 the United States designated the Philippines as a major non-North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally. Total U.S. military assistance to the Philippines rose from US$38 million in 2001 to US$114 million in 2003 and a projected US$164 million in 2005, which would make the Philippines the fourth largest recipient of U.S. foreign military assistance. Australia reportedly also a major source of military assistance.
External Threat: The Philippines faces no major external threat.
Defense Budget: The defense budget for 2005 totaled US$840 million, or 5 percent of the proposed government budget of US$16.5 billion. Almost half of the defense budget was designated for the army. Viewed another way, 80 percent of the budget was slated for personnel and almost the entire remaining amount, for maintenance and operating expenses. Thus, less than 1 percent was available for desperately needed procurement.
Major Military Units: The army has eight light infantry divisions, one special operations command, five engineering battalions, one artillery regiment at headquarters, one presidential security group, and three light-reaction companies. The navy has two commands—Fleet and Marine Corps. Navy bases are located at Sangley Point/Cavite, Zamboanga, and Cebu. The air force is organized into headquarters and five commands: air defense, tactical operations, air education and training, air logistics and supply, and air reserves.
Major Military Equipment: The army is equipped with 65 light tanks, 85 armored infantry fighting vehicles, and 370 armored personnel carriers, as well as towed artillery, mortars, recoilless launchers, and several small aircraft. The navy is equipped with one frigate; 58 patrol and coastal combatants; 7 amphibious ships, plus about 39 amphibious craft; and 11 support and miscellaneous vessels. However, in April 2003 the armed forces chief of staff stated that only 56 percent of the navy’s vessels were operational. Naval aviation has six transport aircraft and four search-and-rescue helicopters. The air force has 36 combat aircraft and 25 armed helicopters.
Military Service: The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is an all-volunteer force. The minimum age for service is 20 years.
Paramilitary Forces: Paramilitary forces include the civilian Philippine National Police (under the Department of Interior and Local Government), with an estimated 115,000 personnel; the Coast Guard (run by the navy but technically part of the Department of Transportation and Communications), numbering 3,500; and local citizen armed militias, the Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Units (CAFGUs) estimated to number 40,000–82,000.
Foreign Military Forces: Beginning in 2002, the U.S. military has assisted the Armed Forces of the Philippines in fighting the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), an al Qaeda affiliate. Although foreign militaries are formally banned from conducting operations on Philippine soil, the U.S. military has maintained an officially advisory presence in the Philippines continuously since 2002. The two nations regularly conduct joint training exercises in the Philippines.
Military Forces Abroad: The Philippines has participated in a variety of United Nations (UN)-sponsored peacekeeping missions, most recently the UN Mission in Burundi, the UN Mission of Support in East Timor, the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti, the UN Mission in Ivory Coast, and the UN Mission in Liberia. The Philippines also participated in United States-led operations in Iraq, with troops involved in humanitarian assistance starting in August 2003. However, the Philippines decided to withdraw its small force in July 2004 when insurgents took a Filipino truck driver hostage.
Police: The Department of Interior and Local Government oversees the Philippine National Police (PNP), which has an active force of about 115,000. The PNP, which had been entrusted with internal security in 1996, lost this role two years later, when the Armed Forces of the Philippines—particularly the army—reasserted its lead role in internal security. In September 2002, the PNP regained some of its authority when it was allowed to form a counterinsurgency task force in northeast Mindanao. Meanwhile, the army established a parallel task force in southwest Mindanao.
Internal Threat: Insurgencies by various Islamic terrorist and separatist groups and the communist New People’s Army pose a significant internal threat. In response to this situation and the global war on terrorism, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has been restructured to combat domestic insurgencies, most of which are based on the southern island of Mindanao: the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), Jemaah Islamiyah, and the Communist Party of the Philippines’ New People’s Army (NPA). In addition, the loyalty of the military to the government remains in doubt, following an unsuccessful coup by a renegade faction of the AFP in July 2003.
Terrorism: The Philippines faces an indigenous terrorist threat from several organizations: the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), and the communist New People’s Army (NPA). The MILF and ASG, which aspire to establish an Islamic state on Mindanao, are reputed to have links to al Qaeda. The MILF, which has engaged in sporadic peace negotiations with the government and has some moderate elements, is the largest of the groups, with about 10,000 to 11,000 soldiers. The more militant ASG, after being forced to abandon its stronghold on the island of Basilan by the Armed Forces of the Philippines, has regrouped on Jolo. About 400 guerrillas now are affiliated with the group, about half the original level before its confrontation with the Philippine military. Jemaah Islamiyah, an al Qaeda affiliate active in Indonesia but with branches across Southeast Asia, allegedly failed to execute plans to bomb ceremonies marking the inauguration of the new Philippine government in June 2004. The NPA, the military wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, has about 3,000 guerrillas on Mindanao.
Human Rights: According to a U.S. Department of State report released in March 2006, Philippine security forces have been responsible for serious human rights abuses despite the efforts of civilian authorities to control them. The report found that although the government generally respected human rights, some security forces elements—particularly the Philippine National Police—practiced extrajudicial killings, vigilantism, disappearances, torture, and arbitrary arrest and detention in their battle against criminals and terrorists. Prison conditions were harsh, and the slow judicial process as well as corrupt police, judges, and prosecutors impaired due process and the rule of law. Besides criminals and terrorists, human rights activists, left-wing political activists, and Muslims were sometimes the victims of improper police conduct. Violence against women and abuse of children remained serious problems, and some children were pressed into slave labor and prostitution.