– by Rappler
MANILA, Philippines – Improving the Philippines’ territorial defense is one of the priorities aligned with the recent ruling on a historic case against China, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said on Thursday, July 14.
In an interview with Rappler, the newly-installed head of the Department of National Defense (DND) said that beefing up the nation’s capacity to defend its territories is now necessary more than ever. (READ: Highlights of the ruling: China violated Philippine sovereign rights)
“That’s very important because now we can clearly delineate our territorial waters over by the exclusive economic zone (EEC),” he said.
On July 12, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) announced that an arbitral tribunal ruled in favor of the Philippines in a case involving the West Philippine Sea. (READ: Philippines wins case vs China)
China, according to the tribunal, does not have any legal basis to “claim historic rights to resources, in excess of the rights provided by the Convention, within the seas falling within the ‘9-dash line.’”
Lorenzana, however, hopes that China eventually honors and respects the decision of the tribunal as it will lessen the external threat the Philippines is facing.
“If we can only get China to respect the ruling, it would be a big load from our back,” he said. “We could probably devote more of our resources to pressing problems at home. “
Thankful for Aquino’s AFP modernization
Improving territorial defense will go hand-in-hand with the 15-year modernization program of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) approved during the administration of President Benigno Aquino III, according to Lorenzana.
At least P60 billion ($2.8 billion) was allocated for AFP modernization during Aquino’s presidency. This equates to 68 completed projects – higher than the 45 projects during the terms of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Joseph Ejercito Estrada, and Fidel V. Ramos. (READ: Aquino and the PH military: Toys for the big boys)
“If you look at the funds that were given by the previous administration, it’s actually almost 3 times the funds given by the past 3 administrations before it,” he emphasized. “It’s big, it’s huge, and we are very thankful to President Aquino for this.”
The second phase of the modernization program which starts in 2017 or early 2018 will be pursued as planned.
Adjustments, however, will be made in line with the new administration of President Rodrigo Duterte.
“We may have to tweak it a little so that we can address the priority of the new president,” he explained. “He said in his pronouncement a couple of weeks ago that we need more helicopters and night flying capabilities so that we can pursue these mandates, criminals, and terrorists that are trying to create trouble in the South.”
Drugs, crime, Abu Sayyaff
Dealing with territorial disputes is not only the job the AFP needs to do, according to Lorenzana, as they have been tasked by Duterte to assist the Philippine National Police (PNP). Eradicating drugs and criminality is part of the marching orders given by the new president.
“We stand ready to support and assist the PNP,” Lorenzana explained. “If it is needed by the PNP or the drug enforcement agency, we will select people who are knowledgeable about this.”
The unit will not be permanent and its composition will be a mix of army and other specialized forces. He also emphasized that it will not be “very big.”
“On a need basis lang naman (only on a need basis) because when they conduct these operations it will be surgical operations on a small area,” Lorenzana explained. “If they need warm bodies for support, or war troops, we can provide them.”
Aside from drugs and criminality, ending the operations of the Abu Sayyaf is also one of the “marching orders” of Duterte.
According to Lorenzana, they are now in the process of implementing some plans which include beefing maritime assets and talking with counterparts in nearby countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia.
Talking to other countries is important because “the border is so porous and wide” and the Abu Sayyaf have shifted to kidnapping passengers of fishing boats.
“We are going to hammer out all the details of how we will implement the border patrols, hot pursuit, and control of border, so that we can check who is coming in and out of the country, and from what sides,” he explained.
Operations, however, will be more of a holistic approach as Lorenzana plans to bring other agencies that can provide livelihood and build infrastructure to uplift the lives of people and communities that support the Abu Sayyaf. After all, the solution to the problem “is not only military.”
“We will bring in the whole government there especially those agencies that are concerned with these things,” he said. “Without the support, it would be very difficult for us to eradicate the Abu Sayaff.”
“When they put their support behind you, then the job becomes easier.”