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Opinion

A citizen army, our best weapons system

THIRD EYE - Ramon J. Farolan - The Philippine Star

One of the last acts of the outgoing administration was to order two navy corvettes from South Korea, with anti-ship, anti-submarine and anti-air capabilities. They would also be equipped with active electronically scanning radar systems. They will be delivered by 2026 at a cost of $554 million, roughly P10 billion at current exchange rates. Let us hope the downward plunge of the peso does not continue, otherwise the price tag will be much more.

Earlier, the Philippine Navy bought two frigates, also from Hyundai Heavy Industries of South Korea, at the price of P15.7 billion. The Air Force has a fleet of 12 FA-50 lead-in fighter trainer jets purchased at $35 million per aircraft, bringing the total cost to $420 million. Last January, the Defense Department issued a Notice of Award to Brah Mos Aerospace of India for the purchase of an anti-ship missile system costing $374 million. The Brah Mos is the world’s fastest cruise missile, flying at three times the speed of sound.

The question is: Can the nation afford all this military hardware? I won’t go into specifics but we have much more pressing priorities than supersonic cruise missiles. The harsh reality of life is that in the opening hours of any kind of conflict, these frigates, corvettes, fighter jets and radar systems will be the immediate priority targets of an enemy with a first-strike advantage. And they will be no match for technologically more advanced weapons systems. Immediately, our investments go down the drain.

In December 1941 just a few hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, the first targets of the Japanese in the Philippines were the US air assets at Iba and Clark. In less than an hour, Gen. Douglas MacArthur lost his airpower, leaving his army of raw, untrained, unprepared recruits without any air support.

More than 80 years ago, as war clouds loomed over the horizon, Gen. Vicente P. Lim, the first Filipino to graduate from the US Military Academy at West Point, spoke before graduates of the UP ROTC program. He told his young audience that we did not have the resources to maintain a large, standing army. “We must, therefore, educate every citizen to be prepared to fight at a moment’s notice.” He believed that the greatest deterrent to aggression would be a strong, disciplined and well-trained citizen army, one able to respond not just to military emergencies but also to national disasters.

Today, Gen. Lim’s message continues to ring true and fortunately, a number of our political leaders have picked up the banner for mandatory military training for our youth as the best defense posture, compatible with our resources. During the election campaign just ended, Vice President Sara Duterte spoke of the need for mandatory military service, similar to our neighbors like South Korea and Singapore. Only recently, Senator Francis Tolentino, the incoming chair of the Blue Ribbon committee, called for a revival of the ROTC program, emphasizing that the mandatory subject would “instill discipline, sense of leadership, teamwork and patriotism in our Filipino youth.” As a brigadier general in the Philippine Army Reserves, Senator Tolentino pointed out that “a standing or regular military force in times of peace can be rapidly expanded by a well-disciplined citizen armed force in the event of war, invasion or rebellion.”

Along these lines, it is imperative that we rethink and review our entire national defense strategy. We cannot afford modern but expensive weapons systems that can easily be taken out at the first sign of trouble. We cannot rely too much on alliances. Even the best of friends have their own national interests to protect and prioritize. We have our own interests to uphold. We have limited resources. We must learn to live within our means. Self-reliance is a difficult and demanding path for any nation and requires sacrifice and a sense of purpose from its people.

Somehow, I am reminded of our ASEAN neighbor, Vietnam. In its struggle for freedom from foreign domination, it had no navy and practically no air force but it had dedicated foot soldiers and a citizenry fully supporting them. In the siege of Dien Bien Phu against the French, it hauled heavy artillery pieces overlooking French positions, not by modern forklifts and heavy machinery but by manpower from its people. Pack bicycles were used to supply rice, small arms and ammunition to units. They won because of the quality of their leaders and the willingness of their people to sacrifice amidst all the hardships and difficulties confronting them.

We must develop and strengthen the one weapons system that is dependent solely on how much we love our country. It is the responsibility of our national leaders to create and nurture an environment that will foster and encourage the growth of patriotism and sacrifice among our people. A citizen army trained and properly motivated would be our greatest defense against any enemy. Mandatory military service will not come cheap but in the long run, we shall have an enduring weapons system for deterring aggression.

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