Defense calls for improvements in infrastructure and services in West Philippine Sea

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THE Department of National Defense (DND) called for the improvement of infrastructure and basic services for military troops and civilians posted in the West Philippine Sea, specifically in the disputed Kalayaan Group of Islands.

“We need to further upgrade the monitoring floating and air assets of the Philippine National Police, the Philippine Coast Guard, and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources towards enhanced surveillance, reinforcement and other development capabilities in the country’s vast maritime range,” Defense undersecretary Cardozo M. Luna said in a forum.

Mr. Luna said that the country has the lowest funding for defense among the 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, “spending only 1% of its Gross Domestic Product on defense.”

“We hope that Congress finds wisdom to invest in more resources for our modernization efforts particularly at least 2% of our Gross Domestic Product towards developing the country’s defense posture,” Mr. Luna said.

The DND has sought the approval of its proposed P258-billion budget for 2020 from Congress.

Of the P183.3 billion proposed budget for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), P29 billion will be allocated to the Philippine Navy and P36.8 billion to the General Headquarters. The AFP modernization program has an allotted P25 billion from the General Headquarters budget.

Meanwhile, Jay L. Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines’ Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, stressed the strategic importance of the country’s waterways as used by the United States military before.

“China, the rising power, sees this as a potential threat because it regards its national security frontiers vulnerable in the area of the sea, particularly in the South China Sea, its southern coast… and it so happens we are in those areas,” Mr. Batongbacal said.

In a national security perspective, Mr. Batongbacal said that Philippine waterways and trade routes also pose a threat to security due to the free mobility given to the international traffic under the United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

“How do you defend for example, Manila, when enemy ships can just reach up through the Visayan and Sulu seas,” he added.

Mr. Batongbacal said that under the UNCLOS, we are “supposed to guarantee access through these areas through the rights of innocent passage and the right of archipelagic sea lanes passage.”

As a developing country, he said that protecting the waterways also poses a greater challenge due to a lack of resources, despite the military modernization efforts. — Marc Wyxzel C. Dela Paz