PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte should convene the full National Security Council, with former presidents, congressional leaders, Cabinet members, and top defense officials in attendance.
Reason: Filipinos here and abroad face grave threats of major attack.
Most worrisome is Korea. The North’s claimed development of a hydrogen bomb small enough to go on missiles, has escalated the threat of military action by the United States, maybe in tandem with Japan and South Korea. And this time, China and Russia might actually let it happen.
On the other side of the Philippines, the US Seventh Fleet plans more “freedom-of-navigation” sailings near Chinese-reclaimed islands in the Southeast Asian Sea. (Let’s call it that, instead of competing country labels like West Philippine, North Natuna or South China.) That means more risk of conflict.
And Threat No. 3 is already here: the Islamic State-driven terrorist attacks in Mindanao, with IS propaganda and funds luring dozens, if not hundreds of youths to Maute, Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), and other extremist gangs. That terrorist violence can spread northward.
For intelligence, consensus and unity
The NSC would help deal with these threats in three ways. First, it taps the collective experience and top-level knowledge of past presidents from their own security crises.
Fidel Ramos fought in the 1950-1953 Korean War, faced Chinese encroachment in Mischief Reef in 1995, and studied US military doctrines at West Point. He also concluded the 1996 peace accord with the Moro National Liberation Front.
Both Joseph Estrada and Gloria Arroyo faced ASG terrorism, and mounted major Mindanao offensives in Abu Bakr and Buliok. Benigno Aquino 3rd tussled with Beijing in the Southeast Asian Sea, forged peace with the once-separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front, and ordered the Mamasapano police commando raid to kill Malaysian bomb maker Marwan in an area held by MILF and other rebels.
Presidential intelligence includes contacts in foreign governments and forces, as well as adversary groups, plus the intimate details of past crises, including foul-ups and failures, which the Commander-in-Chief has the authority to divulge.
The NSC can also help forge top-level consensus on positions and actions to be taken by the government and the security forces.
The Council can help get the national leadership, including the opposition, on the same page regarding what’s best for the security and sovereignty of our nation, and the defense and welfare of our people, including tens of thousands of Filipinos in serious danger in Northeast Asia.
This consensus minimizes divergence and division, which other states can exploit.
Third and most important, the NSC meeting will project patriotic unity among national leaders, past and present — the indispensable binding force the nation needs against security threats, including, God forbid, thermonuclear war.
Defending our nation demands that all Filipinos from President to pobre stand as one, fighting side by side, sacrificing one for all, all for one.
National leaders coming together to deliberate the defense of the Philippines and Filipinos, setting aside ambitions and rivalries, and deciding and doing the needful for our people — that is the story the National Security Council must show and tell to every mamamayan.
In sum, the NSC must be the National Solidarity Council.
Threats from northeast, west and south
So, what will the Council talk about?
First question: How bad can it get?
The NSC needs to know from security wonks what threats we face, from external attack and nuclear fallout, to trade and travel disruption, and dangers to the 65,000 Filipinos in South Korea, more than 200,000 in Japan, and nearly 50,000 mostly Fil-Ams in Guam.
There’s the destruction from various kinds of nuclear weapons: incineration near the blast site, shock waves flattening buildings and homes, fatal radiation afflicting survivors, and fallout contaminating vast areas. If Clark and other military bases in Central Luzon are nuked, its rice becomes unsafe to eat.
Plus: the very real threat of electromagnetic pulses generated by nuclear explosions in the air. EMPs can burn out electronic circuits, shorting cellphones, computers, electronically operated devices and vehicles, including ships, planes, and hospital equipment; and computer-controlled power, water and telecoms facilities. Modern life runs on electronics; EMP will unmodernize life.
Clearly, terrorist attacks and island incursions pale beside nuclear nightmare.
Whose side are we on?
Next question: What should the Philippines do?
Agencies are reportedly meeting to devise action plans in response to any impact Korean conflict may have on the country. So far, defense authorities are treating the threat as a civil defense matter, not a military situation needing armed responses, with or without allies involved.
But the NSC would need to know how the latter situation would be addressed. Plus: What responses may be needed to increased US freedom-of-navigation operations, or fonops, in the Southeast Asian Sea.
Should fishermen avoid certain routes? Should American vessels be allowed to pass and dock in the Philippines before or after fonops? And if there is conflict, will Philippine Navy ships and bases come to the Seventh Fleet’s aid?
Which brings us to the third question: Where do we stand?
Every conflict has opposing sides, of course, and nations need to decide which side, if any, they take. The NSC must deliberate that all-important issue.
On the conflict pitting IS and other terrorist groups against civilized nations, including Muslim ones, the Philippines is clearly against the extremists. Hence, we have received US, Chinese and other foreign aid in the Marawi conflict, and are conducting joint sea patrols with Indonesia and Malaysia.
But in Korea and the Southeast Asian Sea, we have yet to decide where we stand militarily and geopolitically. In particular, will we allow US forces to increase rotations in our territory, and use Philippine bases, as provided in the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement?
If we will, then we stand with America, and North Korea and China would then treat the Philippines as a potential enemy, and put us in their missile sights.
Plainly, the Commander in Chief and the NSC have a lot of fast thinking, talking and decision-making to do.