Secretary of National Defense Delfin N Lorenzana delivered his lecture entitled “Threat Assessment: A 2017 National Security Outlook for the Philippines” at the National Defense College of the Philippines (NDCP) on March 9, 2017.
Secretary Lorenzana highlighted several national security issues and concerns including the West Philippine Sea territorial dispute, Benham Rise, insurgency and resumption of peace talks, kidnapping, proliferation of illegal drugs, cybersecurity, food security, water security, energy security, weapons of mass destruction and natural hazards such as typhoons.
He also discussed global and regional peace and security and provided updates on the modernization program of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
West Philippine Sea
Secretary Lorenzana emphasized that the Philippines is entitled to a 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ). This is based on the ruling issued by the Arbitral Tribunal in The Hague last July 2015. This ruling also nullified China’s 9-dash line claim.
He clarified that President Rodrigo Duterte “did not set aside” the ruling. He said that President Duterte’s instruction was for the country “not to brag about the victory” (after the ruling) but instead “talk with China” to allow Filipinos to fish in Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough Shoal).
He recalled that the problem in the West Philippine Sea started when China “grabbed” the Mischief Reef in 1995. He also noted that China’s structures in the disputed areas are already “extensive.”
He said that the “red line” for the Chinese is if they push through with construction in Bajo de Masinloc.
Commenting on China’s adherence to international rule of law, he said that the Chinese are “cherry picking” what laws they want to follow.
Secretary Lorenzana raised alarm over the presence of a Chinese ship, possibly conducting underwater survey, in Benham Rise. He said that last year, a Chinese ship was monitored plying Benham Rise for an extended period.
Peace Talks with Rebels
Secretary Lorenzana also discussed the issue of peace talks with the CNN (Communist Party of the Philippines-National Democratic Front-National People’s Army).
He said that President Duterte ordered the cancellation the peace talks and lifted the unilateral ceasefire because of atrocities perpetrated by the communist rebels. The NPA has continued burning (equipment) and harassing civilians.
Referring to military operations against the CNN, he said, “We have the upperhand”.
He said that there is strong lobby from the Lower House for the resumption of peace talks. He said that the Department of National Defense (DND) and the AFP welcome the resumption of peace talks.
He underscored President Duterte’s three conditions for the resumption of peace talks, namely, bilateral ceasefire, cessation of extortion, and release of hostages.
Other Security Challenges
On natural hazards, Secretary Lorenzana noted the changes in the usual tracks of typhoons, which have hit Mindanao with increased frequency in recent years.
He said that the National Risk Reduction Management Council (NDRRMC) is improving quick response capabilities in the regions, including training and pre-positioning of ready-to-eat food. The SND is the Chairperson of the NDRRMC.
On kidnapping and piracy, he decried the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) which now has 31 hostages. He said the he finds it “embarrassing” that instead of decreasing, the number of hostages has recently increased. He vowed to end the ASG by June or “a couple of months” after.
On the war on drugs, the Secretary Lorenzana clarified that the military is in a support role to the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA). He clarified that the PNP and PDEA, not the military, will do the arrests.
AFP Modernization and DND Future Plans
The First Horizon of the AFP Modernization will end by 2017. Secretary Lorenzana thanked the previous administration for jumpstarting the AFP Modernization program.
The AFP is lining up needed assets for the Second Horizon (2018-2022). AFP is identifying what equipment is needed such as drones, helicopters and more fast crafts for Palawan and Southern Philippines.
He mentioned that the DND are considering some organizational changes. There are plans for the Office of Civil Defense (OCD) and the Philippine Veterans Affairs Office (PVAO) to spin away from DND and for the Self-Reliant Defense Posture (SRDP) program to be strengthened.
Responding to a question from the media, Secretary Lorenzana pointed out that the AFP has no information on any destabilization attempts by drug lords against the current administration.
He said, “Criticism is not destabilization. There will be criticisms whether we are doing good or bad.”
He said further that “criticism can in fact be used to gauge what we are doing”.
NDCP Defense Forum
Secretary Lorenzana is the inaugural speaker of the Kapihan sa Kampo, a Defense Forum jointly organized by the NDCP and the NDCP Alumni Association Inc (NDCPAAI).
Department of Transportation Undersecretary Cesar Chavez MNSA was the forum moderator.
Participants include former senator Santanina Rasul MNSA, former DILG Secretary Rafael Alunan III, NDCP alumni, members of the Master in National Security Administration (MNSA) program Regular Course 52, DND and AFP officials, and local and foreign media.
– Manmar Francisco