Mindanao needs new security plan – lawmaker

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The Department of National Defense and the Philippine National Police need to draw up a whole new security strategy for Mindanao to prevent a repeat of the Marawi City siege elsewhere, according to a lawmaker.

“We cannot afford to expose another city or large municipality in Mindanao to a crisis akin to Marawi, or to the Zamboanga City siege in 2013,” Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel, a member of the House Committee on National Defense and Security, said in a statement.

Pimentel is supporting President Rodrigo Duterte’s plan to enlist up to 20,000 new soldiers to build up the Armed Forces.

“Actually, compared to our peers in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, we really have fewer active military personnel to begin with,” he said.

At present, the lawmaker said, the Armed Forces have a total active troop strength of only 125,259 —with 85,825 in the Army; 22,771 in the Navy; and 16,663 in the Air Force—excluding 2,693 soldiers deployed to service support units.

“We still have pockets of insurgency in other parts of the country, so we cannot just pull out large forces from Luzon or Visayas and transfer them to Mindanao,” he noted.

“The peril of opportunistic elements taking advantage of fewer troops stationed elsewhere due to redeployments is always there, so we really need the additional soldiers,” Pimentel said.

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez 3rd earlier said that Malacañang may ask Congress to pass a supplemental appropriations law for the rehabilitation of Marawi, the replenishment of the military’s weapons store and the recruitment and training of up to 20,000 new soldiers.

“We are not overly concerned now, because Mindanao is still under martial law. But in the long term, we have to increase our investment in Mindanao’s security, mainly to protect population centers and vital installations,” Pimentel said.

“Besides, we are developing high-value infrastructure projects in Mindanao that will require extra security for deterrence,” he added.

The Department of Transportation (DOTr) is investing P36 billion from 2018 to 2022 to construct and complete Phase 1 of the Mindanao Railway Project—the 102-kilometer line linking the cities of Tagum, Davao and Digos, according to Pimentel.

The lawmaker said the DOTr is also investing P1.14 billion in 2018 alone to modernize 13 airports in Mindanao.

The DOTr is spending P425 million for the Don Carlos Airport in Bukidnon; P221 million for the Zamboanga City Airport; P200 million for the Surigao City Airport; P192.2 million for the Ozamiz City Airport; P184 million for the Butuan City Airport; P182 million for the Dipolog City Airport; and P161 million for the Cotabato City Airport.

The department also is spending P100 million for the Sanga-Sanga Island Airport in Bongao, Tawi-Tawi; P84.2 million for the Pagadian City Airport; P38 million for the M’lang Airport in North Cotabato; P30 million for the Jolo Airport in Sulu; P18.3 million for the Ipil Airport in Zamboanga Sibugay; and P9.5 million for the Bislig City Airport.

Pimentel said the airports in Ozamiz, Dipolog, Cotabato and Pagadian are being night-rated to enable them to handle evening flights.

Congress in July granted the President’s request to extend martial law in Mindanao until the end of the year.

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