The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) should conduct an immediate and total review of its actual troop strength versus its troop ceiling in the wake of the separate deadly clashes between government troops and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Basilan and Zamboanga Sibugay this week, Senator Chiz Escudero said.

The Basilan bloodbath last Tuesday claimed the lives of 19 soldiers and six more in the latest encounter in Zamboanga.

Escudero, chairman of the Senate committee on justice and human rights, said it is high time for the AFP to review its present number of warm bodies and the vacancies for new recruits that need to be filled to strengthen the military.

“While we commend the gallantry and bravery of our troops for going head on in the battle field, we bewail the fact that they were outnumbered and outsmarted in a terrain most familiar to the enemies. Without adding anymore pain to our troops, we now beg the question what is our military’s optimal force? Are we also filling in the yearly quota for military recruitment?” Escudero said.

The senator underscored the importance of this assessment to maximize the strength and potential of the troops in the frontline and readjust it to meet certain existing standard operating procedures in terms of troop augmentation and recruitment.

“We need to fill in the yearly quota for recruits so that yearly our forces get stronger and that our soldiers are not left out there like mice caught in a mouse trap, outnumbered by its enemies. As the country’s guardians of democracy and Constitution, we need to give them enough physical, material and arsenal support to keep and improve their morale and efficiency,” Escudero stressed.

Escudero said that the AFP is in a better position to know the situation in the battlefield need and should be able to refine its protocols given the blatant and bold moves by rogue elements against government troops, particularly in Mindanao.

“I urge the AFP and also the PNP to aggressively go out there and fill the yearly quotas for new recruits. Spend the budget intended for hiring new personnel. Don’t let the old system prevail again where the allocation for hiring new personnel is scrimped on so that the amount can be converted into savings and diverted to line the pockets of some unscrupulous individuals. This has already cost so many lives and has orphaned thousands of wives and children,” Escudero said.