my Trade Tripper column in the 4-5 March 2016 issue of BusinessWorld:
Something that needs to be said repeatedly, hoping the next president of the Republic takes it to heart: “The prime duty of the Government is to serve and protect the people.” Simply put, to defend the State is his main job. If he fails in that, nothing else matters. Any talk of social justice is useless if the Philippines can’t protect and keep its people and territory from both internal and external threats.
Unfortunately, defense has been woefully neglected the past few years. The 2015 budget’s 4.4% for the military is scandalous. This all the more when one considers the territorial dangers, conventional and asymmetrical, faced by the country. And while the 2016 budget’s P117.521 billion is an improvement, in relative terms it still falls behind in priority compared to Education, Public Works, Local Government, and Health. Defense and education spending should always be at the top.
The next administration is strongly encouraged to commit thoroughly to reviving the Self-Reliant Defense Posture of the Marcos years (as well as Ramos’), implemented through Presidential Decree 415, amended by PD 1081.
The SRDP program, “initiated in 1974, took the development of a domestic defense industry as its objective. Defense officials contracted SRDP projects with the government arsenal and local manufacturers, encouraging the use of indigenous raw materials and production capacity. Projects included domestic production of small arms, radios, and assorted ammunition. One of the most significant SRDP operations was the manufacture of the M-16A1 rifle under license from Colt Industries, an American company. According to a 1988 statement by the Philippine armed forces chief of staff, the SRDP not only increased Philippine self-reliance, but also cut costs, provided jobs, and saved much-needed foreign-exchange funds.” (see photius.com, citing the Library of Congress Country Studies and CIA World Factbook)
The policy is practically a neglected tradition for the country. Danilo Lazo and Juanita Mercader (“The AFP Self-Reliant Defense Posture (SRDP) Program: Leading The Nation Towards A New Direction”; Asian Studies, 1989) point to traces of the self-reliant defense posture in “Commonwealth Act No. 138, otherwise known as the Flag Law,” requiring preference for locally manufactured items in government procurement.
Furthermore, considering the much talked about Filipino talent in computer programming, then the same should be harnessed for the country’s defense. Interestingly enough, Filipino hackers have been reportedly retaliating, with some degree of effectiveness, against countries hostile to the Philippines. Defense planning from now on should include creating an actual contingent within the AFP whose sole purpose is to defend the country from cyber attacks.
The foregoing has to be coupled with upgrading our reserve corps, including the revival of compulsory military service by making such a requirement for all graduating college students. With 70% of the population under 30 years of age, this would definitely help in our national development. Note that under the Constitution, “citizens may be required, under conditions provided by law, to render personal military or civil service.”
Finally, we must develop a comprehensive national defense strategy. Because, believe it or not, we don’t have one.
That fact also probably explains our somewhat puzzling recent buying pattern of foreign military hardware. The purchase of sophisticated aircraft is actually futile because warfare essentially boils down to mathematics, i.e., who has more of what. And as far as external threats go, that is a contest we can’t win. The only people benefiting from our recent spending habits are Western defense companies able to offload their products to poor countries like us.
No. If we do buy weaponry from abroad, then the same should be done solely with the focus of neutralizing efficiently any internal threat at hand (including being able to guard against smuggling and fisheries poaching). For such purposes, hi-tech (thus expensive) weaponry is not necessary. Functioning workhorse type aircraft, speedboats, and land-armored vehicles should be enough.
For external threats, it is simply non-sensical to even try matching the military resources of those countries challenging the Philippines.
But what the Philippines does have are thousands of islands, an abundance of forests, caves, and miles and miles of confusing streets.
At this stage of our country’s development we can’t fight a war hoping to beat the other country. This includes not making our defense strategy hinge on the assistance of allies. We shouldn’t waste spending and the developing of our plans on such thinking.
What we can do is build our national defense strategy around the idea of attrition and guerilla warfare: to make going to war against the Philippines an island per island matter, complicated, never-ending, so costly in terms of human and material resources that it would practically outweigh any benefit -- that any country would have to think twice if it’s worth attacking us at all.
In the end, diplomacy is always the best option for everyone. And our national defense strategy should be built around the idea that countries are better off talking to us rather than shooting us.