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Achieving credible deterrence

News reports of the developments in the Permanent Court of Arbitration, the international tribunal in The Hague which is hearing the Philippine case against China’s massive claim over virtually the entire resource-rich waters in the West Philippine Sea, has once more brought to fore our concern for the country’s lack of effective territorial defense. Since 1990, China has engaged in a creeping invasion over the contested waters, and has progressively become more aggressive in its posturing to assert its self-proclaimed indisputable historical rights to claim everything and anything within the infamous nine-dash line. To date, the Philippines has been for the most part, unable to impose its claims over the disputed areas. As  China continues to occupy more territory and embark on illegal activities within the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone, we have not really achieved much by way of the legal and diplomatic remedies that have been undertaken to date. Even as this is being written, China continues its massive reclamation in the Kalayaan Island Group.

Apart from the Scarborough Shoal, which China now effectively controls, China has already embarked on a massive reclamation project on at least seven reefs in the area: Mischief, Mabini, Chigua, Calderon, Kagitingan, Zamora and Gaven. Construction of military facilities, including an air strip, has also been monitored. When these facilities become fully operational within the year, we will none the less be near solving our problems even if the arbitration court rules in our favor.

Given the urgency of the situation, I am of the firm conviction that we should already start rethinking our efforts on our territorial defense capabilities and in achieving credible deterrence as to put a stop in further incursions within the West Philippine Sea. Primary to this is to move away from our current penchant for buying refurbished and second-hand air and sea craft as part of the programmed acquisitions under the AFP modernization program. Instead, I humbly opine that we should focus the procurement to state-of-the-art surface to air/ surface to surface air defense systems. A modern air defense battery costing $100-thousand each could easily down a $50-million plane or even a $300 million war ship. Compare that with our recent million dollar acquisitions which turned out are not even capable of safe flying.

Adding salt to the wound,  a news report said that 28 military projects, including base upgrades, various air assets, and ships with a total cost P60.14-billion under the AFP Modernization Program might be delayed due to Malacañang’s inaction. Even more frustrating was the news report from another broadsheet stating that Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, outgoing Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. and Army Commander Maj. Gen. Hernando Iriberri were responsible for removing the programmed acquisition of a P6.5-billion shore-based missile system (the country’s primary defense against incursions in the WPS) negotiated between the Israel and the Philippines under the first phase of the program, in favor of helmets, night goggles, body armor and radios to sustain internal security and terrorism operations.

These issues with our hardware acquisition exasperate me because I was one of the principal authors of the AFP Modernization Law. During the time when I was its Vice Chair, I purposely included in the law a provision that our military officers shall be shielded from political persuasions in the acquisition of our military hardware. It is very disappointing that the provision has been rendered ineffective and the only reason I could think of is that seasoned officers are forced to cater to the powers that be because of the relatively young age at which they are required to retire. Of course these officers, still at the prime of their lives, would like to secure a source of income after their retirement. For this reason I believe that is also high time for us to reconsider the mandatory retirement law for the AFP and the PNP.  

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