MANILA - Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Wednesday made clear that despite the Duterte administration's visibly warmer ties with China, the Philippines' defense and security sector has not abandoned its mandate to protect and defend the country from its enemies both local and foreign.
In a speech delivered during the 80th anniversary of the Department of National Defense (DND) – for which President Rodrigo Duterte was present as the guest of honor – Lorenzana spoke to growing public fear that Duterte’s "pivot" toward friendship with China meant the Philippines was softening its stance and claim on the West Philippine Sea, which is being claimed by China as part of its own territory.
“We have persistently upheld our national interests and sovereign rights, especially in the Philippine Rise and the West Philippine Sea,” Lorenzana said. “That Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has never shirked from its duties to protect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the State, and promoting and sustaining our internal stability.”
The Philippine Air Force, in a statement, said it has conducted 29 maritime patrol missions over the West Philippine Sea, Scarborough Shoal (Bajo de Masinloc), and Philippine Rise.
The Air Force thanked the DND’s support for their modernization, particularly in supporting their acquisition of new assets like the three Air Defense Surveillance Radars that are now positioned in key areas.
The Philippine Navy also thanked the DND for backing its costly modernization program, through which it sought to strengthen the nation’s posture beyond its shores.
The Navy called 2019 a “glorious” year, when it acquired three missile-capable multipurpose attack craft, two AW159 “Wildcat” anti-submarine helicopters, eight amphibious assault vehicles for the Philippine Marines, the refurbished Korean corvette BRP Conrado Yap which is capable of anti-air, anti-surface, and anti-submarine warfare, and two new frigates.
Lorenzana said the AFP likewise has been aggressive in addressing “internal problems and threats, such as terrorism and violent extremism, and disturbances from local and foreign groups.”
The Armed Forces of the Philippines said this year alone, under the government’s massive anti-communist insurgency campaign, 6,643 “regular members (of the New People’s Army), Militia ng Bayan, party and underground mass organization members, and supporters” have surrendered.
In modernizing the fight on land, the Philippine Army has activated the 1st Brigade Combat Team, the Aviation Regiment (Provisional), and the Armor Division, as well as installed the Multiple Launch Rocket System Batteries and Land-Based Missile System Battery.
Duterte, for his part, pledged full support to the AFP's modernization program.
"I assure you of my administration's full implementation of the modernization programs by working with Congress towards the enactment of legislative measures that will further enhance the department's capabilities," he said.
Lorenzana also thanked Duterte for his constant support, even to the veterans and the wounded, making particular mention to the President giving fifty million pesos monthly to Veterans Memorial Medical Center (VMMC) and another 50 million pesos monthly to the AFP General Hospital.