April 22, 2011:
The Philippines recently announced that it was allocating $255 million from natural gas revenues to buy patrol boats, helicopters and weapons for the troops fighting communist and Islamic rebels. These natural gas revenues are a relatively recent development, and Filipinos are nervous about this new source of income being stolen by corrupt politicians and generals. This procurement announcement also implied that the government was finally going to crack down on officers who have long plundered the military budget. This theft is no secret. A recent national opinion survey found that most people considered the military the most corrupt institution in the country.
With an annual defense budget of $1.4 billion (.8 percent of GDP) and 131,000 personnel on active duty, the armed forces have managed to acquire a long list of embarrassing media stories about stealing and bad behavior. The troops themselves are quite good, and have been regularly engaged (for decades) against leftist rebels, Moslem separatists and Islamic terrorists. While the troops get accused of looting from time to time, the biggest offenders are the officers. Generals are accused of embezzlement and using their power to carry out other illegal scams. Lower ranking officers have been caught stealing cash and equipment, as well as helping ransom money, meant to free foreigners or Filipinos, partially disappear.
Officers have also taken sides in political battles, and there is the occasional coup attempt. That is one reason politicians have been reluctant to crack down on the military corruption. But that attitude has changed. Currently, there's a major effort to clean up the culture of corruption in the military. That's won't be easy, but without a better reputation, the military is always going to be suffering from tiny budgets and low morale.