“Despite its military muscle, the communist government in Beijing respects only those countries that are able to put up a fight.”
Senator Richard Gordon, who heads the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, is correct. There is a pressing need to upgrade the fighting capacity of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). To state the obvious, the Philippines has the weakest military force among the numerous countries staking territorial claims in the South China Sea. It is so weak that the Philippines is unable to kick out the Red Chinese troops currently occupying Panatag Shoal and other islets in a maritime area which, under International Law, and as decided recently by the International Court of Arbitration, lawfully belong to the Philippines.
Whatever is in the arsenal of the AFP is certainly no match to that of Communist China which also happens to have one of the largest standing armies in the world.
Despite its military muscle, the communist government in Beijing respects only those countries that are able to put up a fight. That’s Beijing’s foreign policy reduced to simple terms, and one that is based on a fundamental tenet of Communism — strike until you hit hard metal, then withdraw.
That is one reason why Communist China is not too keen on invading Taiwan which Beijing considers as a renegade province. The Taiwanese have a military arsenal that can resist and produce considerable casualties on the communist side of the Chinese divide.
It is also the reason why Communist China is lukewarm to the idea of invading Vietnam which has the military might and arsenal to resist any external aggression.
George Washington, the first president of the United States and the commander of the continental army that fought for independence against Great Britain, emphasized that one’s preparedness to go to war is the best way to ensure peace with one’s neighbors.
It is precisely because the Philippines is unable to defend its interests in the waters between Luzon and mainland China that Manila now has problems with Panatag Shoal and its environs.
The military bases left by the Americans towards the end of the administration of then President Corazon Aquino were supposed to be disposed of by the government to finance the upgrade of the AFP’s military arsenal. That task was left to Aquino’s successor, President Fidel Ramos.
During the Ramos administration, prime real estate in what was once the expansive Fort Bonifacio was sold off supposedly to add to the budget for the AFP arsenal upgrade.
Today, the AFP remains ill-equipped, with only a miserable assembly of ships and planes in use to give the public impression that it is capable of defending the territorial integrity of the country. What is saddening is that Fort Bonifacio, which used to provide inexpensive housing for the nation’s rank and file military defenders, was sold off during the administration of an ex-soldier.
During the last Gulf War when Saddam Hussein’s Iraq invaded Kuwait, Saudi Arabia sought pilots from Asia who could fly jets to bomb Baghdad into submission. Leaders of countries in South Asia sent their pilots to the war. President Aquino refused to do so but sent a token delegation of physicians. After the Gulf War, Saudi Arabia and its victorious allies donated jets to countries which sent pilots to the war. The Philippines ended up with nothing.
Under ideal circumstances, upgrading the military arsenal of the AFP must be given top priority by the government. The Constitution, however, provides that the bulk of the annual budget of the country must be spent on education.
That does not mean, however, the military establishment cannot upgrade its hardware. The billions of pesos in pork barrel funds used by abusive members of Congress for so-called projects that end up in corruption should be rechanneled to the military upgrade effort.
Money used on needless projects like the “carinderia” program of the Department of Tourism and government-sponsored out-of-town seminars for government officials and employees should also be diverted, even in part, to the military fund.
Public funds wasted by local government officials, like Quezon City Mayor Herbert Bautista on self-serving roadside decorations which promote their names, are a possible source of funds, but will require legislation by Congress. Smuggled luxury vehicles impounded by the Bureau of Customs should be traded for military equipment through the intercession of friendly nations like South Korea, Japan and Australia.
Japan has an interest in keeping the maritime lanes in South East Asia open to international trade. Since Japan has undoubtedly proven itself to be a friend of the Philippines since the end of World War II, Manila should court Japanese generosity and cobble up a military deal.
Considering that warships and aircraft are very expensive, the AFP can opt for a fleet of submarines to defend against enemy sea vessels. It should likewise acquire sufficient surface-to-air missiles, like the Patriot missiles used by Israel during the Gulf War, to defend against air attacks.
The AFP should also create a cyber division to neutralize the military computer systems of any country that threatens the territorial integrity of the Philippines. This should not prove too difficult to do since Filipinos are reputed to be the best hackers in the world.
Because corruption may lead to the acquisition of substandard military hardware, steps should be taken to see to it that no middlemen are involved in the acquisition of military equipment. That is the only way to minimize, if not eliminate, corruption in the acquisition process.
While Sen. Gordon is correct when he said the AFP needs to beef up its military muscle, perhaps the only feasible solution to the problem in Panatag Shoal lies in Filipino ingenuity and creativity. Details of that, of course, cannot be discussed in this column lest potential enemies of the Philippines learn about the same.