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Assessing RP’s National Security Strategies: The Alternate Views (1st of 3-part series)

The nation’s core values define the interests and goals from which governmental policies are based. However, a country may continue to face risks when it is not secure. This necessitates the need to safeguard the nation’s territories and implement national security strategies (NSS), which are tools to preserve the nation’s cherished values and institutions.

An NSS is a method of developing, applying, and coordinating the instruments of national power to attain national security objectives. According to a 1999 reference paper drafted by the Office of the National Security Adviser and the National Security Council (NSC) Secretariat, national security refers to “a state or condition where our most cherished values and beliefs, our democratic way of life, our institutions of governance, and our unity, welfare, and well-being as a nation and people are permanently protected and continuously enhanced.”

NSS Elements

The 1999 NSS paper presents seven elements comprising the country’s national security: (1) socio-political stability, (2) territorial integrity, (3) economic solidarity and strength, (4) ecological balance, (5) cultural cohesiveness, (6) moral-spiritual consensus, and (7) external peace. These elements have been classified based on political, socio-economic, and defense/law enforcement concerns. Several domestic threats to national security are the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army/National Democratic Front (CPP/NPA/NDF), economic sabotage, graft and corruption, calamities, environmental degradation, and criminality.

Regional threats are the southwestern frontier, South China Sea, Korean Peninsula, India-Pakistan, and the Taiwan Straits. International threats are economic disparities, ethnic/religious conflicts, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, transnational crimes, environmental problems, and cybernetic issues.

The paper served as the basis for the succeeding documents of the National Defense Strategy (NDS) and the National Military Strategy (NMS) in 2001. In the same year, Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo issued Executive Order No. 21, creating the national internal security plan (NISP), prescribing the application of a holistic approach internally for the community/barangay-based rhetoric. The NISP is merely a medium-term NSS component in cases of internal threats. A comprehensive NSS, however, should include long-term national planning. Without the inclusion of the external dimension, the NISP is only halfway of the NSS functions.

Missing Link

Despite the existence of the 1999 NSS document, NDS, NMS, and NISP, the country had no official NSS. The guarded treatment of strategy articulation has inhibited the creation of a national strategy in the past. It is also most likely that the close-door approach of the national strategy formulation of the President and her few comrades within the inner circle prevented a more visible strategy. A broader, multi-sectoral committee of stakeholders were never sought.

The significance an NSS cannot be more emphasized. Ideally, an NSS is one the critical elements to ensure that a territory and its people will survive after a strategy formulation framework. The NSS assists in achieving the goal of a national security policy by linking means and ends to reach the national goals and objectives.

The components of an NSS originate from the most fundamental of all elements — the national values. The values and aspirations of a nation are primarily contained within the fundamental law — the Constitution. In the Philippines, values such as love of God and country, sovereignty and integrity, freedom and democracy, truth and justice, equality and peace, adherence to law, and civilian supremacy over the military are among the most cherished values.

Improvised National Security

History teaches us how national security in the Philippines has been relatively attained despite the lack of an explicit strategy. Since the Commonwealth period up to the Martial Law days, the 1935 National Defense Act (NDA) or Commonwealth Act No. 1 provided the basis for all executive orders after its promulgation. Although the policy authorized the formulation of military plans and orders, it had no explicit and coherent national security strategy. But it laid down the groundwork of war plans in defending the country from external aggression in line with the original intent and purpose of the American colonial masters when the legislation was passed.

FVR Initiative

It was only in the late 1960s that then Col. Fidel Ramos drafted a national security thesis, criticizing the insufficiency of NDA and advocating its revision to reflect the new requirements. He concluded that NDA, designed primarily for external defense, had to be upgraded to reflect contingency provisions when addressing internal conflicts, which were primary threats to national security. Col. Ramos stressed what he perceived as incoherent and ad hoc nature of national security management.

During Marcos’s time, Pres. Ferdinand Marcos himself as the highest leader of the land and commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) was the sole formulator of a national security strategy, but this, in general, remained implicit. This was the case during the Martial Law although there were times when Marcos would involve the Minister of Defense and the AFP Chief of Staff in the intricacies of the strategy. Significantly, it was during that time when a broader aspect of national security was put into practice.

Gradual Movement

After the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution, the NDA-based concept of national security management was again adopted by the Aquino government with no explicit or coherent NSS. The Administrative Code of 1987, inspired by the unimplemented piece of executive legislation of Marcos’s Executive Secretary Rafael Salas, came into force. This code, which allows for a comprehensive treatment of national security, provides the legal basis for the proposed NSS, along with the broader provisions of the 1987 Constitution.

Despite its critical role, the NSC has not fully played its function in formulating the NSS. Its autonomy tends to be overridden by the President who chairs the Council. It is the NSC, particularly its Secretariat, which has the primary agenda of implementing an NSS. The President supposedly has merely a ministerial role in affirming the NSC’s strategy.

When combating various enemies of state, the AFP through the years has come with work plans at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels. In 2001, the AFP has published its first NMS and the NISP was also enforced in the same year.

Far from Reality

Reading the AFP publications, it appears that all is well in the country’s national security program. In reality, this is far from truth. The main problem of the national security in the Philippines is brought by the lack of an official NSS, which has contributed to the incoherence plaguing the country’s national security efforts. It is indeed odd that AFP, along with the exigencies of war-fighting, has managed to draft an NMS even in the absence of the NSS.

With the Joint Defense Assessment (JDA) initiative of the Americans in the country following 9/11, the Philippines gained an NSS. Citing interoperability as justification, the JDA has transformed the AFP’s strategy formulation process using the American model as the pattern. Although the formulation of a Philippine NSS is indeed a good development, the extent of such U.S. assistance is a major concern because of the profound differences of both countries’ national defense systems.

Pros vs Cons

To some extent the American model encourages the formulation of the Philippine strategy to become coherent by linking ends to means in enhancing the country’s national security. With this, the Multi-Year Capability Planning System (MYCAPS), patterned after the US Planning, Programming, and Budgeting System (PPBS), will improve the AFP’s re-sourcing in its plans and strategies and assist in eradicating graft and corruption. However, some aspects of the model may not be suitable to the local setting that could either backfire or diminish national security. For example, if the needed resources cannot be sustained by the country’s weak economy, then some substantive aspects that needed transformation may be derailed.

Moreover, the President-Secretary of Defense-Combatant Commanders chain of command concept of the U.S. may not be compatible with the Philippine President-Secretary of Defense-Chief of Staff-Major Service Chiefs chain of command concept to which the AFP has been accustomed over the years.

To understand the history and evolution of the country’s NSS, the role of the U.S. appears indispensable. Some analysts claim that the reason for the lackadaisical treatment of an NSS by the Philippine Government throughout its history is the defense umbrella the U.S. has been providing through the 1935 NDA and the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty. It is ironic to note that if the U.S. defense umbrella inhibited the formulation of an explicit Philippine NSS in the past, the same umbrella today is encouraging the adoption of a Philippine NSS and a strategy formulation process patterned after the American model.

JDA Initiative

Even in the absence of the Americans after the removal of their bases in 1991 in the country, the Philippines was still unable to create its own NSS. It waited until the American-initiated post 9/11 JDA that the government began to craft an NSS set to transform its national security posture in response to the challenges of the new century.

Through the JDA, the Department of National Defense (DND) and the NSC Secretariat have drafted the first ever capability-based NSS inspired by multi-sectoral consensus. With the country’s national security environments as relatively new (e.g. post 9/11 scenario), uncertain, complex, ambiguous, and diverse, the draft NSS is aimed at comprehensive, focused, and holistic community-based approaches. The proposed NSS identifies the instruments of national power for attaining national security: social / psychosocial / cultural, information, military, political/diplomatic, legal/law enforcement, and economic.

Unlike the 1999 NSS paper, the proposed instruments of national power are expanded to include information (especially its processed forms / intelligence) as a result of 9/11. Deemed as an urgent need, future threats are anticipated to avoid devastating effects similar to 9/11. The proposed NSS stresses the critical role of strategic intelligence in conducting strategic planning and NSS formulation.

Draft NSS Benefits

The most notable advantage of the draft NSS is the coherence in the management of the country’s overall national security. By being capacity-based rather than threat-based, the evolving NSS is set to be more realistic in linking strategy to resources, making the functions of national security more manageable. The proposed NSS institutionalizes resourced NSS formulation by making it part of the Annual Appropriations Act on a systematic and regular basis.

As part of its 2001-2004 record and legacy, the Arroyo Administration declared its national security accomplishments as: (a) reducing the potency of domestic threat groups; (b) responding quickly to destabilization plots; (c) protecting national interests during war; (d) uniting efforts and strengthening counter-insurgency policy; (e) managing effectively the counter-terrorism program; and (f) anticipating national security threats and concerns.

Given the alternating views regarding the Arroyo administration’s 2001-2004 record and legacy, stakeholders from several intergovernmental organizations, the academe, and media challenged the national security claims of the incumbent administration. They criticized that the Arroyo government’s national security measures have been designed either as narrow or changeable. They observed that the government has shallow treatment of profound issues, inconsistencies between policy and implementation, and instances when the NSC failed to anticipate threats. The critics claimed there were other urgent needs that the Arroyo government should address.

Consolidated Efforts

Clearly, there is an utmost need to rationalize initiatives in prioritizing national security concerns based on the threats and the capacity of the state to response to the prevailing issues in a given timeline. Otherwise, the NSS will only be a listing of myriad concerns, like what the Arroyo government provided. With the country’s limited resources, it cannot provide sufficient solutions in every issue that arises. If it continues to do more than its normal capacity, it will be overwhelmed. When this occurs, national security will not be served. So an effective strategy must be created. In the absence of an NSS, concerned stakeholders have shared their views on what should constitute the country’s NSS.

Navy Capt. Vicente Agdamag, a U.S.-trained resource strategist, in his 2003 book, 150 Days of Hell, proposed the containment of internal threats for homeland defense, active engagement of regional threats, and holistic strategy re-sourcing that involves the adoption of the private sector as part of the national strategy elements. Despite some validity, the merits of Agdamag’s NSS proposal are put to question by their lack of connectivity to the entire national strategy formulation process that requires more than the inputs of one stakeholder.

An exhaustive review of literature reveals that there has yet been no attempt to solicit the inputs of informed sources from the non-government or informal stakeholder sectors in the formulation of the Philippine NSS. No attempt has been adopted to utilize the views of the informal stakeholders in assessing current strategies.

In today’s definition of national security that encompasses the society as a whole, it is more compelling to understand the fusion of the views of both government and non-government sectors to adequately address the myriad requirements of national security. After all, it is the much larger informal sectors that smaller, democratic governments represent and derive their power from. It is against this backdrop that this essay attempts to utilize informed non-government sources to assess our government-formulated national security strategies and recommend alternatives if warranted.