– by ABS-CBN News
MANILA – New Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana allayed fears that the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte would do away with the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) well-established plans to acquire assets for territorial defense and focus all of its attention and funds instead on internal security matters like the Abu Sayyaf.
Speaking to reporters after a ceremony that officially welcomed him as the new secretary of DND, Lorenzana called territorial defense a “top priority” of the Duterte administration, except that the higher objective at the moment is to address the problem of the Abu Sayyaf.
“It’s one of the top priorities of the Duterte administration. Territorial defense is very important. Dahil ito, pangangalagaan natin ang mga territories against encroachment by other parties,” said Lorenzana.
When asked if they would still push through with the purchase of jets and warships, assets that can be used for other purposes but are in essence for territorial defense, Lorenzana said the 15-year AFP Modernization Plan that was previously laid out will continue “as planned” and “as scheduled.”
All contracts that have already been completed will be respected, and all projects in the pipeline without apparent problems will be approved after review.
“But there will be redirection,” he said. “Kasi ang priority (ng Pangulo) ngayon is to fight criminality, saka yung Abu Sayyaf sa baba. That’s very important kasi it’s giving us a bad name sa international community.”
Duterte already said that he found the purchase of FA-50 light interim fighter trainer jets essentially useless, saying he would rather focus on internal security problems rather than “go to war over Scarborough Shoal.”
He said he would rather purchase helicopters and fastcraft that can better chase the Abu Sayyaf, and engage in talks with China instead.
But Lorenzana said it was not true that they would ignore territorial defense completely. The higher priority, though, is to render insignificant the ASG.
“Hanggang nandyan yang Abu Sayyaf na gumagawa ng kalokohan sa baba, it will continue to erode our credibility in the international community. So yun muna ang pagtuunan natin,” he said.
The Duterte administration is going to wait for the release of the decision of the arbitral tribunal on the case filed by the Philippines against China over the dispute in the South China Sea. They acknowledge the soundness of filing the case.
After the talks, the new government will be open to engage in bilateral talks with China, and possibly entertain concessions should the Philippines end up with the upper hand.
“Alam mo, tatlong taon nating pinaghirapan yan,” said Lorenzana, referring to the case filed by the Philippines.
“Ngayong magkakaroon ng ruling na medyo favorable sa atin, I think we will take advantage of that so that we can get concessions maybe from the other parties para sa resolution ng kaso.”
But after the top priority of ending the Abu Sayyaf, the second priority for the Armed Forces will be to help the Philippine National Police (PNP) in its anti-illegal drugs and criminality campaign.
During the turnover of command from former Secretary Voltaire Gazmin to him, Lorenzana said he is open to deploying military forces in anti-illegal drug operations, if the PNP so requests.
“Criminality, anti-crime, pulis ang nakasakop. Pero kung kailangan nila ng tropa, we will provide.”
Chiara Zambrano, ABS-CBN News