Imee: Defend Our Fishermen Or Help Them Defend Themselves

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Senator Imee Marcos has backed up the military’s call to organize civilian forces in response to the reported swarming of Chinese militia against Filipino fishermen in the West Philippine Sea.

“The Naval Special Operations Group (NAVSOG), also known as the Philippine Navy SEALs, should expand recruitment and ratchet up multiplier forces in fishing communities,” Marcos said, in response to the military’s plan to deploy a maritime version of Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Units (CAFGUs).

“Let us at least defend our fishermen. Have we given up defending them? We can’t just cower in fear and remain defenseless and vulnerable,” Marcos added.

Marcos cited Defense secretary Delfin Lorenzana’s admission in a Senate hearing that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has attained less than 25% of its “minimum credible defense” due to budget constraints and legal hurdles to procuring military supplies and equipment.

Marcos has filed Senate Bill 1871 to address limited defense funding by reviving the Self-Reliance Defense Posture Program (SRDP) implemented by Presidential Decree 415 in 1974, which promoted the local manufacture of military supplies and equipment, from firearms to vehicles, while conserving foreign exchange resources.

“The SRDP program was able to manufacture armaments with maximum utilization of indigenous materials and to save dollars,” Marcos said.

Marcos enumerated such armaments as the M16 Assault Rifle, 60mm Mortar Tube, 81mm Mortar Tube and gun barrels, as well as the MKII hand grenade and 5.56mm and 81mm mortar ammunition that the SRDP program produced.

“We were also able to produce in the 70’s vehicles like the jiffy jeeps, mini cruisers, hovercraft, speed boats, marcelo boats, PCF, LCVP and whale boat,” Marcos added.

Marcos also filed Senate Bill 1707 to preserve the confidential and even top-secret nature of acquiring defense supplies and equipment, which the present General Procurement Act does not exempt from full disclosure.

“Transparency does not mean “full disclosure” as there are “trade secrets” that only few people need to know, such as the purchase of major and highly classified defense materiel which, if revealed, may pose an imminent threat to national security,” Marcos said.

Marcos added that giving the AFP a special mode of procurement other than public bidding, “subject to specific conditions,” would speed up the acquisition of military supplies.

The Philippines’ estimated defense spending of US$3.47 billion ranks only sixth among ASEAN countries, according to a Global Asia report.

The Seoul-based East Asia Foundation’s publication added that Singapore has allotted US$11.2 billion; Indonesia, US$7.6 billion; Thailand, US$7.1 billion; Vietnam, US$5.5 billion; and Malaysia, US$4 billion.

Marcos said that the first “horizon” of the three-phase AFP modernization program is three years past its 2017 completion deadline, adding that the second and third horizons are supposed to be completed by 2022 and 2028.

“A meager 21 out of the 152 projects have been completed as of August 2019 under Horizon 1. Worse, some 25 are still in various stages of procurement,” Marcos explained.

Decades of delay in the AFP modernization program has left the country vulnerable not only to foreign incursions into its territory and exclusive economic zone but also to calamities like the Covid-19 pandemic as well as cyber and biological warfare, Marcos added.