To Take A Stand

Last week, I was drawn to various conferences that swirled around unending security issues. I’ll share some of the more important ones and try to capture the essence of the discussions at the Philippine Army’s Senior Leaders Conference; the Philippine Council for Foreign Relations’ forum on national security; and the Maritime Forum’s assessment of the risks in our EEZ.

In light of terrorism’s global footprint and struggle for a cohesive regional response to it, three key aspects grabbed everyone’s attention: the Human Security Act of 2007, cybersecurity and “whole-of-nation” solutions where the government and society remain unable to close the gaps and align with its purposive regional neighbors whose internal security policy and operations, cybersecurity architecture and socioeconomic-political stability are firmly in place.

The Human Security Act of 2007 is a deflated Internal Security Act. It’s misaligned with our regional neighbors’ policies. We need to scale it up and be supportive of our law enforcers. An amended counterterror law should enable practitioners to arrest, search, seize and detain on mere suspicion like our regional neighbors do. Their quarantine could last several months (it varies from country to country), not a mere 3 days and a ludicrous penalty of P500,000 on our law enforcers for every day a suspect remains in detention after 3 days.

The UK today is like a police state based on laws enacted by the British Parliament since 2000 that empower law enforcers to act swiftly and decisively against terrorists. Security forces are raiding homes; seizing evidence; patrolling the streets; stopping vehicles to search it, drivers and passengers for dangerous tools of the trade; and arresting based on suspicion alone. Ironically, it’s reminiscent of president Marcos’s conduct of martial law, unlike President Duterte’s watered down martial law powers based on the 1987 Constitution.

In Israel, security is the government’s and society’s duty and responsibility to prevent terrorists from influencing its national agenda. Its strategy consists of: a.) intelligence; b.) military and paramilitary actions; c.) commercial aviation security; d.) defense against weapons of mass destruction; and, e.) reinforcing society’s psychological fortitude. Israel’s counterterrorism system employs preemptive strikes; destroys terrorist infrastructure; eliminates command echelons; and attacks weapons stockpiles, logistics, development centers and safe houses.

In cybersecurity, an invisible cyberattack group traced to China has, for years, been hacking government, military, media, private sector, dissident and social sites to collect information, pollute data, and destroy technology-based strategic infrastructure. We haven’t been spared based on official records. China’s Information Warfare (IW) and Information Operations (IO) include computer network warfare (in concert with electronic warfare) to disrupt, disable, degrade, or deceive an enemy’s command and control, and cripple its ability to make informed and timely decisions.

Western countries have long accused China of aggressive espionage. Although various attacks on corporate and infrastructure computer systems have been traced to computers in China, they’re unsure if the attacks are state-sponsored due to difficulties in tracking real identities in cyberspace. What’s known, though, is China’s policy direction on IW and IO that are generally focused on information defense and offense covering 5 major elements:

• Substantive Destruction

• Electronic Warfare

• Military Deception

• Operational Secrecy

• Psychological Warfare

It’s DICT’s job, in collaboration with other affected sectors of society, to evaluate our risks and vulnerabilities, assess defensive options and apply tailored solutions against extractive and destructive attacks on our information, communications and infrastructure systems. Attending Black Hat conferences to gain new insights and obtain fresh approaches to cybersecurity is an important element in countering terrorism. Intelligence-sharing, data privacy and completed staff work cannot be overemphasized.

We’ve had a dual insurgency since 1969: the CPP-NPA-NDF and secessionist fronts. The latter overlap with foreign and local jihadist groups linked to criminal syndicates and political warlords. They exploit our weak institutions, endemic corruption, bad governance, and tattered values. Problems persist because, historically, we either evade solutions that affect vested interests; or address symptoms rather than the root causes. Good governance — national and local — and responsible citizenship are essential to a “whole-of-nation” approach for lasting peace, inclusive growth and sustainable development.

In addition, divisive elements lobby for a Bangsamoro nation with a Constitution and system of governance that rivals and challenges the inviolability of the Republic; usurps the powers of the Executive and authority of our uniformed and civil services; and primes it for future withdrawal from the Philippines. An expanded ARMM law that truly decentralizes and empowers within the confines of the Constitution is the only way out of a bad proposal. We all want peace but not at the expense of the Republic. There must only be one Philippines for all its citizens!

Another issue affecting our national interest is the AFP’s modernization. Had the government seen to it that the AFP and other armed instrumentalities were provided the wherewithal year on year, from the time the US bases left in 1991, we could’ve built our capacity to detect and deter aggressive intrusions in our EEZ. The loss of our security cover, and our negligence to fill the vacuum, emboldened predators to challenge our national interests to advance theirs. At this late stage, we still lack the mind-set and aptitude needed to build credible deterrence.

The US and China are locked in strategic competition for prestige, wealth, and power in the Indo-Pacific theater. We’re strategic real estate caught between a rock and a hard place: a Mutual Defense Treaty with the USA, and an independent foreign policy wanting to expand relations with China and Russia that the US labels as strategic competitors. China, Russia, and the USA continue to circle each other in multiple arenas that may one day turn to mortal blows. It’s in our national interest to ramp up preventive diplomacy while preparing for the worst.

A nation divided cannot win.

We lack the patriotic fervor of other nations to solve persistent problems and reinforce the elements of our national power. To survive, we need to change our attitudes and behavior to what we should finally become — a diverse society united in common purpose for a dynamic Philippines.


Rafael M. Alunan III served in the Cabinet of President Corazon C. Aquino as Secretary of Tourism, and in the Cabinet of President Fidel V. Ramos as Secretary of Interior and Local Government.