P1.28 B Released for AFP; Armed Forces Lauded for Gains in Rebel Campaign

Article excerpt

Byline: GENALYN D. KABILING

President Arroyo has authorized the release of P1.28 billion for the increase in combat pay of soldiers and for the purchase of new protective gears for frontline troops as she praised the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) for successfully neutralizing rebels' lairs in Mindanao.

At the commemoration of National Heroes' Day in Cagayan de Oro City last Monday night, the President said the government will use the savings from the bidding under the military's modernization program for additional salary benefits and equipment for soldiers.

"In gratitude for our soldiers and Marines who gave up their lives in these past battles, I direct the Department of Budget to authorize the Armed Forces to avail (itself) of the use of these savings to increase the combat pay and force protection of our soldiers and Marines," Mrs. Arroyo said.

The President also ordered Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr. to allocate P145 million a year for additional pay of soldiers engaged in actual combat operations.

She said members of the Philippine Army and Marines would get an additional P150 per day of "actual combat," a significant increase from the previous P240 per month.

AFP chief of staff Gen. Hermogenes Esperon Jr. was asked to release the guidelines for the latest combat pay hike.

The President also noted that Air Force pilots already receive a 50 percent salary differential as flying fee while the Navy gets a 25 percent differential for naval duties.

"Part of the gains from our economic measures is being used to modernize all the armed forces and improve the fighting conditions of our soldiers," the President said.

Aside from combat pay hike, the Chief Executive said the military also deserves improvement of their self-protective gears when in the battlefield.

She ordered the purchase of 3,000 new sets of helmets and armored vests to be equally divided to the Marines, Army and other special combat units. "This shall be charged to the savings in the Capability Upgrade Program," the President said.

The new equipment was in addition to the 3,100 sets received by the Army and the 5,000 given to the Marines last February.

"These have been distributed to line units to afford better force protection to the lead elements of units in operations," she said.

At the same event, the President also paid tribute to the soldiers and their leaders for the elimination of Abu Sayyaf leaders and Jemaah Islamiyah militants during the monthlong campaign against terrorism in Mindanao.

"Our soldiers have hit them hard and with success. This is due to our forces' heroism and to the fact that the terrorists' lair is becoming narrower because our grasp on peace in Mindanao has become wider. The outcome of peace is a new era of economic development," she said.

President endorses planting of jatropha

By DAVID CAGAHASTIAN

President Arroyo yesterday endorsed the planting of the jatropha plant in idle lands as a strategy in reforestation, increasing the profits of farmers and lessening the country's dependence on imported oil.

"We are encouraging the cultivation of native tubatuba, as well as foreign varieties like this one planted by the province of Bukidnon, to reduce our import oil bill, increase the income of our farmers, produce clean fuel and cover our mountains with a carpet of green," Mrs. Arroyo said at a 'pulong bayan' and demonstration of jatropha seed production and extraction in Bukidnon province.

"In jathropha, all of the above can be achieved because it rates high in the economic, environment, energy, employment scorecard we look for in a fuel," she said. …