The Manila Times

Much to do in so short a time


I N my view, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. made the right call to shift to external defense. It means that the AFP’s main mission has now changed to ensure the protection of Philippine territory as disputes with China and the US-China rivalry intensify. Speaking before Philippine Army troops in Fort Bonifacio, President Marcos told them to be vigilant as the external threat to the country’s security was becoming more “complex” and “unpredictable.”

He said he was aware of an emerging threat to the country’s territory requiring “adjustments in our strategy.” Diplomatese aside, the “emerging threat” is now a clear and present danger.

Geopolitical conditions are steadily deteriorating. Despite decades of strategic patience and peaceful efforts at conflict resolution China has only become more coercive and provocative. Thus, in line with presidential orders, the shift to territorial or external defense has been formally taken but it must retain a portion of our armed forces to address internal security concerns. Our future conflict will be hybrid in nature — both conventional and unconventional — focused on external and internal threats. It will require full-spectrum warfare readiness — from irregular warfare to conventional warfare, to include the mitigation of WMD impacts.

We’re caught in the middle of the great power rivalry between the US and China. Their clashing core interests are pulling them toward war as China aims to displace the US as the regional and global hegemon. Both sides are accusing the other of containment and undermining each other’s economies. They’re laying their premises for war. Despite exhaustive efforts to promote peace in the Indo-Pacific region, the threat of force is now required to demonstrate resolve and capability to deter war and return to a state of peace. Unfortunately, it raises war risks.

Our efforts to seek closure on the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea have been ignored. We’ve sought concrete action on human and ecological security in our EEZ but nothing so far has happened. Instead, China ramped up its belligerent behavior and “wolf warrior” diplomacy. Its conduct of warfare has evolved into a more lethal and aggressive hybrid form through “gray zone tactics” that intentionally blur the line between war and peace by combining legitimate and illegal actions short of full-scale war. We only know too well China’s gray zone tactics to exercise effective control over us and neutralize our MDT with the US.

– It serially violates our sovereign rights to fish and move freely in our EEZ.

– It has destroyed marine resources in the WPS to build its artificial islands and military bases.

– It has infiltrated our vital institutions and business sectors. – It engages in political, cyber and information warfare. Global security analysts now believe that China could go kinetic within the next 2 to 3 years. In such a case, the manpower, combat assets and operating systems of all our uniformed services must possess the quality and quantity needed to fight smart, operate jointly and impose a very heavy price on its enemies, both foreign and domestic. We need to adapt quickly to new innovative forms of hybrid attack in the realms of information, cyber and political warfare. We must tame our debilitating VUCA situation — volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity — with ourselves, our allies and defense partners to be a worthy friend and foe.

When the great powers go kinetic, our worst case scenario would be waging modern warfare; unconventional warfare (guerrilla, information, cyber); and MOOTW (search-rescue-relief operations, evacuation, refugee handling). Hopefully, it doesn’t get to the level of strategic warfare involving WMDs. Fortunately, we’ve reactivated the VFA and EDCA, and are studying the prospects of maritime patrols with our allies and defense partners. The more we conduct joint proficiency and interoperability drills with our allies and defense partners the better. As they say, it’s better to sweat in training than to bleed in battle.

China’s waging irregular warfare. One form is economically intended to impoverish local producers by dumping and smuggling in cheap goods using networks of infiltrated agents and local collaborators. It takes control of critical infrastructure like water, energy and land reclamation through sell-outs by dummies and corrupt officials. The same technique is used to acquire mining rights in vital areas overlooking strategic lines of communication. The hectarage provides wide spaces to hide hostile forces and logistics. Be it agriculture, aquaculture or mineral resources, it smuggles, poaches and controls the means of production.

What is being done about it? Except for a few patriots, our civil authorities by and large cannot be relied upon. There’s not much the uniformed services can do if the powers-that-be are unreliable. Moreover, our uniformed services — AFP, PNP, PCG — are outsized, outnumbered and outgunned. Modernizing them has a single purpose — to transform them into powerhouses that can ably uphold or defend our national interests by projecting national strength as the need arises. They should be seen as instruments of national power that were long neglected and are now being optimized to detect, deter, defend, defeat any threat.

We’re still in catch-up mode facing various barriers that keep delaying the modernizing process. The major disablers have been the global pandemic, economic downturns and endemic corruption.

But that’s no excuse. Other less endowed countries have a better grasp of their national security imperatives than us, a better sense of nationhood and impressive patriotism. They’ve gone through the same hardships, probably even worse than us. We’ve stopped building our nation while others accelerated theirs. They’re pulling away while we’re falling behind.

We need to wake up from our stupor. We must reform our ways, perform to the max in all nationbuilding arenas, and transform in the process into a vibrant Philippines composed of mature, patriotic, dutiful and responsible citizens; of statesmen in government; a throbbing economy with no one left behind; and a security sector that ably defends and protects. To become that, we must become better Filipinos in all respects — a society that holds the high moral ground, trusted and held in high esteem by the world.

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