By Chester B Cabalza
Commentary of an Academic
(Copyright @ 2017 by Chester B Cabalza. All Rights Reserved).
|Photo courtesy of Washington Post|
Today the Philippines, Asia’s first republic, celebrates its 119th Independence Day. Long from its young existence, the archipelagic nation has been historically colonized by naval powers Spain, the United States of America, and Japan. Nevertheless the country’s current territorial and maritime row with revisionist China in the Spratlys archipelago and the Scarborough shoal places a dilemma for the Southeast Asian member-state to succumb to the giant neighbor’s resurgence as a naval power.
Taking off from President Rodrigo Duterte’s bold pronouncement in September 2016, he rattled traditional allies as he cements an “independent foreign policy” by diversifying defense and economic relations apparent in his current pivot to Eurasian powers, Russia and China, yet maneuvering a less dependence from the United States, the country’s oldest treaty ally in the Asia-Pacific.
Considering the Philippines weak deterrence and over reliance to major powers in protecting its territorial integrity and sovereignty, how can the country overcome limited combat capabilities to persuasively survive its “real” independence from foreign naval powers?
In January 2013, the Philippines resorted to lawfare against China to the spectacle of maritime states abroad. The Hague-based arbitral court ruled a landmark case in favor of the Philippines in October 2015 and July 2016 to the dismay of China as it radically altered the features of the controversial U-shaped contested islands in the South China Sea while the Philippines immediately hedged to renew damaged bilateral ties.
Nonetheless the world’s second largest archipelago remained weak in defending its stolen territory and maritime entitlements despite an increase to 13 million hectares on the Philippine archipelagic territory based on endowment of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea to the Benham Rise renamed to Philippine Rise today.
In March 2017, Mr Duterte promised to further modernize the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) with “more modern military aircraft, sea vessels, and other equipment in the next two or three years to better patrol the country’s territory and combat security threats,” when he spoke before the graduating plebes at the premiere Philippine Military Academy.
The defunct Republic Act No. 7898 in 1995 provides for the Modernization of the AFP behooved to build up the country’s self-reliant defense force but it flunked to address the defense sector’s needs which triggered for an amendment courtesy of the Republic Act No. 10349 in 2012 establishing the Revised AFP Modernization Program.
The two-decade old AFP modernization programs addressed dual security situations that challenged the country’s intermittent internal and external defense postures. Hence the AFP modernization laws must be scrutinized from its contexts by the time it was enacted to understand the country’s flip-flopping transformational strategies down from the Internal Security Operations up to the Territorial Defense Operations.
After two failed attempts of modernizing the Philippines’ armed forces, the shopping lists of military hardware from the current administration should match its own desired needs to combat local insurgency or terrorism and guard maritime domains from newly befriended gigantic neighbor that has the capability to declare war against a vassal state to secure its own expanding sovereignty rights.
Hence Philippine defense laws and security executive issuances should essentially identify fundamental interests, primarily for the fortification of the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Strategic plans at all levels must highlight the interplay between national interests, alliances, and the broad capabilities required. International laws and other mechanisms should contribute to the recognition of the validity of the Philippine interests while capacitating to either bandwagon or hedge with allies and crooks for protection and objection.
Independence from a naval power pitches a long-term solution for the Philippines to own self-reliant defense posture that it still lacks today abreast with meek military ammunition and defense expenditures in the region. The development of a muscular defense industry considerable in strengthening and sustaining the national defense can provide for credible deterrence to supplant a robust defense industry to flex capable infrastructure, materiel, and the technology needed to the armed force of the nation.
Reality bites the Philippines is still locked in a period when hegemony of naval powers reign at seas to regain its real independence. Sea power theory paves way for small states not to wage war but to avert it with a believable ability to flight. In the long run, the Philippine [in]dependence as evidently perceived on its recent diversified alliance can be considered only a short-term remedy to stoutly hold a credible deterrence paving a way for a long-term independence and/or self-reliance to foster a robust strategic culture.