From ‘bongbong’ rockets to smart drones

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

Three months after being promoted as Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff, it was only last week that Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. officially took his oath before his Commander-in-Chief, President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. (PBBM). Actually, it was an en masse oath-taking of all newly promoted generals and flag officers of the AFP held at Malacañang last Oct. 27.

The 55-year-old Brawner was appointed as AFP Chief of Staff on July 21. A month later, his military exploits and track record of leadership carried him with ease through the confirmation wringer at the Commission on Appointments. A member of the Philippine Military Academy “Makatao” Class of 1989, Brawner reached the top echelon of the AFP at a time our country demands much from our military to defend our country’s sovereignty and maritime territorial boundaries around the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

To many patriotic Filipinos, the AFP is looked upon as the ultimate defender against the wanton disrespect by Chinese coast guard ships and its militia-run sea vessels intruding into the 200-mile exclusive economic zone embracing our WPS. To its credit, our own Philippine Coast Guard has succeeded so far in outsmarting these bigger-sized and fast-moving Chinese coast guard ships.

Just recently installed to his four-star rank, Brawner’s mettle is being tested in the face of the renewed challenges to our Philippine vessels on its latest re-supply mission to Ayungin Shoal last Oct. 22. These Chinese Coast Guard ships “intentionally” bumped from behind not just one but two of our Philippine flagged vessels en route to BRP Sierra Madre. This is the moribund Philippine Navy ship that has been serving as our own military outpost in Ayungin Shoal.

During our conversations at the Kapihan sa Manila Bay news forum last week, Brawner candidly admitted getting “worried” at how the continuing tension in the WPS is being escalated by “the dangerous maneuvers, very aggressive and illegal” activities of the Chinese Coast Guard and militia ships.

As a peace-loving nation, Brawner echoed for now the foreign policy of his Commander-in-Chief: “A friend to all, an enemy to none.” During his watch as Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) secretary, Ambassador Teodoro Locsin Jr. – who is now PBBM’s envoy to the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland – added: “And the worst enemy to a false friend.”

Incidentally, PBBM has designated Locsin as Special Envoy of the President to the People’s Republic of China for Special Concerns in concurrent capacity since August this year. Locsin’s designation came after the China Coast Guard blocked and fired water cannons at Philippine vessels on a resupply mission. Much earlier in February this year, Philippine Coast Guard accused a China Coast Guard ship of pointing a “military grade” laser at some of its crew, temporarily blinding them, aboard a vessel in contested waters.

PBBM supposedly believes Locsin had previous experience dealing with his former Chinese counterpart Foreign Minister Wang Yi. A veteran diplomat, Wang returned to his former post as Foreign Minister in July after Chinese President Xi Jinping removed Qin Gang. Qin was removed from his post after a mysterious one-month absence from duties barely half a year into the job.

And just last Oct.24, President Xi fired his Defense Minister Li Shangfu.

These developments in Beijing did not escape notice of our own government officials here. Defense Secretary Gilberto “Gibo” Teodoro Jr. first publicly raised last week the unexplained disappearances and removal from office one after the other of the Chinese foreign and defense ministers. “Another problem with engaging with China is they’re not transparent. We don’t know how they work, we don’t know who we’re talking to,” Teodoro ranted in a CNN Philippines interview last week.

While no one wishes to go to war, Brawner agreed with Teodoro on the urgent need of the AFP to demonstrate its capacity to deter, if not repel, such antics of the Chinese to get us out of our own WPS.

Teodoro and Brawner have been closely coordinating with the leaderships of the 19th Congress to support legislative measures to accomplish the “Revised Horizon-3,” or the continuing requirements of the AFP Modernization Program. The proposed Philippine Defense Industry Development Act was, in fact, recently added to the priority administration bills in the list drawn up in the last meeting of PBBM with the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC).

The proposed bill is pending before the Senate committee on defense and security chaired by Senator Jinggoy Estrada. Its counterpart bill is also pending at the House committee on national defense chaired by Iloilo Rep. Raul Tupas.

The AFP-drafted bill is also known as the proposed Self-Reliant Defense Posture (SRDP) revitalization program that seeks to ensure adequate defense assets and hardware for the AFP through domestic production and manufacturing, development of a national defense industry and lessening dependence on foreign and overseas suppliers.

Brawner cited as example the advantage of the Philippines in its deep bench of skilled information technology workers and engineers to produce smart drones that can also be used to launch missiles. According to Brawner, there was a time private Philippine companies used to manufacture the AFP rifles, ammunitions and other equipment.

These, he cited, included the defunct Elisco that used to produce the AFP’s M16 rifles, and the Vetronix that used to manufacture AFP radios and communications equipment. Currently, he cited, the Government Arsenal is producing the AFP’s ammunitions.

Brawner recalled the AFP also used to have its own missile program.

The namesake father of PBBM, the late president Ferdinand E. Marcos, initiated this program to develop and test rockets for defensive purposes. It was called the “bongbong rocket” carrying the nickname of the present President.

Unfortunately, only a replica “bongbong rocket” is on display at the Philippine Navy Museum located in Fort San Felipe in Cavite City.

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