Security experts say PH should focus naval, air force buildup on protecting West PH Sea
MANILA, Philippines—The Philippines should build up naval and air force capability against China’s aggression in the West Philippine Sea, according to security experts.
The Philippines, a maritime nation with one of the world’s longest coastlines, has one of the weakest armed forces in the region. The military is constantly trying to upgrade its systems and hardware in the face of a wide range of security challenges. But efforts to upgrade, already at a slow pace, had been further delayed by the pandemic with funds for new weapons, assets and materiel being diverted to COVID-19 response.
“The Philippines should develop credible defense capability by focusing its limited resources on building the navy and the air force,” said Dr. Renato de Castro, a program convenor at Stratbase ADR Institute, at an online forum early this week.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is currently dominated by the Philippine Army, which focuses on the country’s insurgency. De Castro said it was time to consider passing on this duty to the Philippine National Police and build “a respectable maritime force.”
“Probably it’s time that counterinsurgency should be handled by the Philippine National Police. It’s domestic, it’s not a military, it’s a constabulary function,” said De Castro.
“The armed forces could not be a nationwide constabulary force forever. We used to have the Philippine Constabulary. I am old enough to remember this,” he said.
“It’s probably high time that we have to reorient our viewing—which is more important than maritime domain or counterinsurgency or land-based operation,” he added.
The lingering presence of Chinese maritime militia vessels at Julian Felipe (Whitsun) Reef, which is inside the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ), has pushed the Philippine government to file diplomatic protests and send more patrols to the area.
The Chinese vessels have dispersed since the protests but they remained scattered across the Philippines’ EEZ.
“The nature of the threat we face at this point in time is maritime. The Philippines is a maritime nation that needs a respectable maritime force. This is my point. The budget is not the problem, it is how we allocate the budget,” he said.
Retired Rear Admiral Rommel Ong, now a professor of Praxis at the Ateneo School of Government and executive director of Security Reform Initiative, said the Philippine military should focus on procuring assets needed in the West Philippine Sea.
“We need to maybe push back some of those in the list of equipment to be bought and focus on what we call the game-changer package, those that will have immediate strategic effect on the South China Sea scenario,” said Ong.
“And of course that will be basically coming from the Air Force and the Navy, in terms of equipage,” he said at the same forum.
“We need to rethink our defense posture, particularly the impact of the pandemic in terms of budget,” he said.
Ong said that if there was an opportunity, the Philippines should proceed with acquiring BrahMos anti-ship missiles from India “to neutralize the impact of Chinese Navy operating within our EEZ.”
BrahMos is a medium-range supersonic (faster than the speed of sound) missile that can be launched from submarines, ships, planes or land. It is considered to be the fastest supersonic missile in the world.
The AFP has admitted that it was facing difficulty in patrolling the vast West Philippine Sea.
“To be honest it will help if there was additional capability but that would not still be enough,” said AFP spokesperson Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo in an interview with radio station dzBB on Wednesday (April 14).
He said reconnaissance flights that take five hours could inspect a small portion of Palawan.
The Navy has four ships deployed to the area, complemented by two ships from the Philippine Coast Guard and three ships from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.
Western Command chief Vice Admiral Ramil Roberto Enriquez also said that he had requested additional equipment and materiel to boost its maritime surveillance.
He said a ship cannot cover the entire West Philippine Sea in a single patrol, and his command needed assets that could give it an entire snapshot of the area in a single mission.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.