• AFP close to attaining ‘minimum credible defense posture’

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    EVERY year poses significant challenges to the Department of National Defense (DND) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and their attached agencies in ensuring the county’s internal and external security, bracing for disasters and supporting social and economic development.

    To develop “minimum credible defense posture” for the protection of Philippine sovereignty and territory, the DND has consistently backed the modernization program of the AFP and the campaign against criminality of the Philippine National Police (PNP).

    “Minimum credible defense posture” pertains to the establishment of an effective presence inside the Philippines and its exclusive economic zone or EEZ with exhibited competence to defend the country and protect its national interests if and when the need arises.

    The DND’s support for the AFP and the PNP is aimed at stopping threat groups, particularly the communist New People’s Army, the terrorist Abu Sayyaf Group, the Moro National Liberation Front-Misuari faction and the renegade Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.

    Modernization program
    Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin disclosed that a total of 37 military modernization projects worth P9.2 billion have been completed since the start of the Aquino administration in 2010.

    Gazmin said 14 more projects worth P6.2 billion are expected to be finished before the end of 2014.

    At least 10 more projects worth P17.3 billion will have been delivered in 2015, covering armored vehicles for the Army; attack helicopters, combat utility helicopters, light-lift and medium-lift aircraft for the Air Force; and naval helicopters for the Navy.

    Earlier, the Defense department announced that two 12 FA50 lead-in fighter/trainer jets, which it had acquired from South Korea for P18.9 billion, will arrive next year.

    The AFP modernization program was seen to have been pursued earnestly only after the country’s territorial row with China in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) erupted but the military said the program had begun before the maritime dispute with Beijing worsened.

    Its remaining projects are in advanced stages of procurement or are nearing completion, including procurement of additional rifles for the Army, frigates and amphibious assault vehicles for the Navy and air defense surveillance radar for the Air Force.

    Revised, the modernization program for 2013-2017 has a budget of P 85.3 billion, which will be spread out over five years and with P8.6 billion going to the Army, P43.3 billion to the Air Force, P28.2 billion to the Navy and P5.2 billion to the AFP General Headquarters.

    For 2013 alone, the Defense department said the AFP conducted a total of 4,350 hours and 12 minutes of naval operations in the West Philippine Sea with 444 missions, covering 75,806 nautical miles.

    For the same year, the military logged 307 naval air patrols and aerial reconnaissances covering 111,668.7 nautical miles with total flying time of 902 hours and 50 minutes.

    Also for 2013 alone, it carried out maritime air patrols in the Kalayaan Island Group area, most of which were conducted around Pag-asa, Rizal Reef, Ayungin Shoal and Bajo de Masinloc.

    The area is being claimed in its entirety by China.

    Internal security
    In 2010, the AFP launched Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP) Bayanihan, the government’s new anti-insurgency strategy, a departure from the traditional military perspective of simply “defeating the enemy” to a people-centered goal of “winning the peace.”

    Under the IPSP Bayanihan, the desired result is to reduce the capabilities of internal armed threats to a level that they can no longer endanger the stability of the state, and civil authorities can ensure the safety and well-being of Filipinos.

    AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Gregorio Catapang said he wants to declare the entire country insurgency-free or peaceful and ready for development in 2015, when he retires, or a year ahead of the 2016 original target.

    At least 25 provinces have been declared insurgency-free since IPSP Bayanihan was launched, a feat made possible by local government units.

    Against the Abu Sayyaf Group and other terrorist groups, a total of 39,964 combat operations were conducted mostly in the provinces of Basilan and Sulu in Mindanao in southern Philippines.

    Such operations saw bloody clashes that sadly claimed the lives of a number of government forces.

    Meanwhile, the Defense department and the Armed Forces continued to provide full support for the peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

    Disaster preparedness
    In 2013, the DND’s mettle was tested by natural disasters and man-made emergencies, particularly the Zamboanga City siege in September, the Bohol earthquake in October and Typhoon Yolanda in November.

    To victims of these disasters and emergencies, the AFP transported a total of 8,230,584 tons of relief goods.

    The shipment was made possible by human assistance and disaster relief (HADR) equipment purchased by the military for the major services of the AFP General Headquarters for a total of P465.37 million.

    Global peace
    In helping achieve global and regional peace and stability, the DND continued to engage its defense partners while establishing defense relations with other countries that share the same objectives and concerns regarding security.

    This move complemented the country’s efforts toward building its defense capability while developing good relations among defense and military establishments around the globe.

    Existing bilateral relations with allies and partners were sustained through dialogues and joint endeavors.

    The year 2013 marked an important year, particularly for the Philippines-US alliance, as seen in the increased number of visits of both high-level and working-level US officials to the Philippines, notably Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in August 2013 and State Secretary John Kerry in December 2013.

    Activities under the Philippines-US Mutual Defense Board-Security Engagement Board also went on.

    Official negotiations for the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement between Manila and Washington commenced in 2013.

    The agreement, which was eventually signed in April 2014 during the official visit of US President Barack Obama to the Philippines, is envisioned to further advance implementation of the 1951 Philippines-US Mutual Defense Treaty.

    In addition to the high-level visits of US officials, Gazmin received two of his foreign counterparts in 2013.

    Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera visited the Philippines twice.

    After first agreeing to explore the conduct of vice ministerial defense talks and promotion of military education exchanges in July 2013, Onodera returned to the Philippines in December 2013 to visit members of the Japan Self-Defense Forces, who were deployed to the Philippines after the onslaught of Typhoon Yolanda the month before.

    In August, Vietnamese Defense Minister Phung Quang Thanh paid an official visit to the Philippines.

    He and Gazmin agreed to explore joint activities and programs to implement the 2010 Philippines-Vietnam Memorandum of Agreement on Defense Cooperation as well as cooperative initiatives, including personnel exchanges between the Philippine Navy and the Vietnam People’s Navy.

    Sustained in 2013 were bilateral defense dialogues with defense partners, including Australia, China, Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Vietnam and Germany.

    During such dialogues, the Philippines was able to articulate its views on regional security issues, promote military education and training exchanges and explore ways to further implement existing agreements as well as establish new initiatives.

    The Philippines concluded defense arrangements with South Korea , Israel and Poland.

    A memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Poland indicated the DND’s increasing engagements with Europe.

    The MOU with South Korea expanded the long-standing logistics cooperation between Manila and Seoul and that with Israel intended to further implement provisions of another MOU on logistics and defense industry cooperation.

    Ahead of the establishment of the Asean Political Security Community, the Defense department joined the Asean Defense Ministers’ Meeting and the ADMM-Plus in 2013.

    The ADMM meeting enabled the defense ministers of Asean member-countries to exchange views on regional and international security issues with their counterparts from the eight dialogue partners of Asean, namely Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Russia and the US.

    The Philippines and New Zealand, chairmen of the ADMM-Plus Experts’ Working Groups on Peacekeeping Operations, organized a force generation workshop and a planning conference as culminating activities of the EWGs.

    The AFP sent contingents as well as military observers and peacekeeping force (PKF) staff to the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (Undof) in the Golan Heights, UN Mission in Liberia and UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti.

    It deployed individual personnel to the UN Operations in Cote d’Ivoire and UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan.

    The Defense department hosted the country’s celebration of the 50th International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers where the role of Filipino peacekeepers in restoring peace and stability in their mission areas was commemorated.

    To ensure safety of Filipino peacekeepers amid volatile security environment in the Middle East and North Africa, it negotiated provision by the UN of additional protection equipment for Filipino troops.

    The Philippines sustained its presence in Undof, notwithstanding withdrawal of some troop-contributing countries to the observer force as the Syrian conflict intensified in 2013.

    In June, the DND took part in the inaugural Fullerton Forum: The Shangri-la Dialogue Senior Officials Meeting; the 12th Shangri-La Dialogue, where Gazmin delivered a presentation on “new trends in Asia-Pacific security;” the 2nd Seoul Defense Dialogue, where views on defense planning given defense budget constraints and improving cooperation on cyber security were shared; and the Asean Regional Forum Defense Officials’ Dialogue and ARF Policy Security Conference on cyber security and impact of use of social media on the defense sector.

    Its international defense and security engagement program in 2013 enabled the DND to sustain its robust defense relations with its counterparts and cultivate new partnerships that are based on common interests.

    Also through the program, the department was able to convey its positions and views on regional security issues while promoting practical cooperation among regional states.

    Such endeavors were in line with its goal to meet national, regional, and global defense and security challenges while remaining an active partner of the international community in promoting peace and stability.

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