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Opinion

The modernization of our Armed Forces

HINDSIGHT - F. Sionil Jose - The Philippine Star

Test of Will: Next time the Chinese water cannon our ships, we must respond immediately in kind.

Our map will tell us that since we are an archipelago, our defense priority requirement is a Navy.

Since the end of World War II, our Navy was primarily composed of old US naval vessels, which were inadequate. I was in one of them commanded by the late Ramon Alcaraz on patrol in the South and the old boat was outraced by the Moro kumpits with twin outboard engines.

As an archipelago, we have a venerable maritime tradition. Way back before the Portuguese and the Spaniards came, the boats made by ancient Filipinos reached our neighboring countries, including China, to trade. And during the Spanish regime those splendid galleons that crossed the Pacific to Mexico were built by Filipinos in Cavite, the Bicol region and Pangasinan. This tradition in seamanship is very much alive today with thousands of Filipino seamen in ships that ply the seven seas.

I was very glad when some years back, I saw in Cebu the fast ferries built in the Aboitiz shipyard. We are now building fast boats to patrol our waters, but alas, we are not building enough. As a matter of fact, the defense capability of the Philippines is the weakest in Southeast Asia, surpassed by tiny Singapore with its fighter jets and army.

Some years back, Fort Bonifacio was put up for sale, the proceeds supposedly to be spent on the modernization of the Armed Forces. That didn’t happen and one can only guess where all that money went.

I am heartened, however, to know that now, as confirmed by National Security Adviser General Hermogenes Esperon, the modernization is now in full swing. We have acquired new jet fighters and frigates from South Korea, attack helicopters from Poland and two new frigates are also coming from Israel and Japan; all of them equipped with missiles.

There are also plans to buy a submarine from France, although I am not sure if we need one. As I always said, we do not need battleships or aircraft carriers. We need smaller vessels and, most of all, swift patrol boats to guard our shores, to protect our fishermen and to prevent smuggling. All these are expensive, but we must have them.

Let us now examine our relations with the United States. If there is any single country that has dominated us in the last century it is the United States, which had aspired to make the Philippines in its image.

Of course, it failed. In the last century, we saw how the United States, as an imperial power, defeated Japan, but was also responsible for Japan’s rise as a world power. It suffered two defeats – in Vietnam first, and recently in Afghanistan. In both countries, it has spent billions aside from the loss of thousands of American lives.

I cite all these to put into perspective and how we, too, have fought the United States and then align ourselves with many of its foreign policies. As an ally, we expected, of course, to get military assistance from the United States. This we haven’t got. If we do, it seems to be granted grudgingly. General Esperon revealed that when we got that cutter, its armaments were removed, and we had to buy them ourselves.

The United States has so much war materiel in mothball; think of everything it used in Afghanistan. Why do we have to buy helicopters from Poland and frigates from Korea when we could perhaps get these for free from the United States as an ally or, and at least, at a much lesser price?

Remember the battle for Marawi a couple of years ago? Our soldiers who rushed there to fight ISIS had to march for one whole day to reach Marawi, a distance they could have traversed in just a few minutes if we had helicopters to ferry them.

Given this military weakness and the unreliable American assistance, it is time for us to restudy our alliance with the United States and build an ordnance industry to provide ourselves with bullets, rifles, artillery, all of which do not require sophisticated technology.

Just look at the beautiful paltik weapons produced in Cebu. Go back to our historical past, how the Tausugs forged cannons far superior to what the Portuguese had at that time.

It is right that we broaden our ties not only with the United States but with China, Russia, India, Japan. American power is now equaled by these countries. It stands to reason that we must develop ties with these countries without having to grovel before them.

President Duterte is a weakling when he states that we cannot go to war against China. Who is the fool who said we must? In our confrontation with China and because China is violating our sovereignty in the South China Sea, we can protect our nation in many ways, by diplomacy, by appealing to world opinion and by dialogue with the Chinese leaders themselves. Still, there is an imminent danger in our region – an American and Chinese confrontation.

The president of Taiwan has admitted that American soldiers are now in Taiwan teaching the Taiwanese in the use of the latest sophisticated American military technology. All that we can do is pray that if war breaks, nuclear weapons will not be used.

On those occasions that I was asked to speak at the National Defense College, I have emphasized that a patriotic people are the best bulwark of national security – a populace united in their determination to protect their sovereignty. To achieve this, we need to revive the ROTC and to see to it that at a certain age, all young Filipinos must serve in the Armed Forces for at least six months. This is done in Singapore. It will be very expensive, but we must also double the size of our military and devise a national strategy wherein reservists can be brought to active service when they’re needed.

Such preparedness is one of the outstanding virtues of the military forces of Switzerland and Israel.

In a world where imperialism has taken new forms, we must be constantly aware of imperial seduction; we can do this by knowing our history and our heroic past. And, most importantly, we must value our freedom as we value our lives.

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