Assessing RP’s National Security Strategies: The Alternate Views (2nd of 3-part series)

Thus far, no study has ever been written to assess our current national security strategies using the direct inputs of informed stakeholders from the non-government sectors. This is the gap that this study attempts to fill.

One of the reasons for this existing gap is apparently due to the fact that the country has never had an openly published national security strategies (NSS). The documents that are used as bases for the conduct of national security affairs are the disjointed pronouncements of the President or policy thrusts of the Department of National Defense or the National Security Agency. To date, the Philippines has yet to publish a coherent national security strategy that governs the rational conduct of its national security affairs.

The coherent and rational conduct of national security implies the establishment of a structure and command relationship as well as a process which connect strategy to resourced tactics. It also implies a system that is able to rationalize the prioritization of what national security threat to address relative to the other threats given the limited resources. It implies the adoption of a national security system of management whereby scientific means of assessing progress are instituted.

The closest literature that evaluates the country’s conduct of its national security is Chapter 10 of Alternative views and assessments of the Macapagal-Arroyo presidency and administration: Record and legacy (2001- 2004) published by the University of the Philippines Center for Leadership, Citizenship, and Democracy (UPCLCD). However, the literature still cannot be considered a de facto assessment of the NSS since the documents it evaluated were mere indicators of the NSS, not the NSS itself.

Additionally, therefore, this study intends to assess the evolving NSS based on the inputs of stakeholders coming from the private sectors. This is done in the belief that a more complete assessment of the NSS can be had by combining the views of both the government and the private sectors of Philippine society. After all, one of the fundamental values upon which the pursuit of Philippine national security is based is the principle of democracy. This principle declares that the ultimate power in a democratic society emanates from the people. The government is only the people’s mechanism in dispensing that power. Apart from the inputs of government representatives therefore, our studies should go directly to the people and see what they themselves have to say about what needs to be done to enhance their own security.

Sixteen experts from various non-government sectors were sought for their views on national security concerns and priorities. The summary of their credentials is presented below:

Expert 1 holds a doctorate degree from the Australian National University and has been a long-time faculty of political science at the University of the Philippines. He now teaches international relations at the University of Amsterdam’s Department of Political Science.

Expert 2 is an economist-analyst immigrant who has lived in the Philippines since the seventies. A graduate of the University of New South Wales, he heads a regional consultancy and writes a column for a national daily.

Expert 3 is a reservist colonel who has lived in both the Philippines and Australia as a national security consultant and lecturer. He holds graduate degrees from the National Defense College of the Philippines, Australian National University, University of New South Wales, Harvard University and Stanford University.

Expert 4 has an extensive background in both theory and practice in his field. A Doctor of Divinity, he has authored a number of books and manuals. A man of the cloth who has risen through the ranks, his current crusade against the corrupting evils of illegal gambling is well known.

Expert 5 is an academic with a doctorate degree from the University of Hawaii. Having authored a book on the Huks in 1979, he had lived in Central Luzon while doing his research. He taught at the University of Hawaii and had been a visiting fellow at the Ateneo De Manila University in the eighties. Although he now teaches political science at a university in Australia, he remains a frequent visitor to the Philippines.

Expert 6 is an author, retired military officer, and graduate of the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, MD.

Expert 7 is a senior consultant to various industries both locally and internationally. She graduated from the University of the Philippines.

Expert 8 is a retired military non-commissioned officer who is now a senior analyst and consultant on left-wing insurgencies.

Expert 9 is one of the leading defense analysts in the country today. He holds a doctorate degree from the University of South Carolina, is a renowned author of a number of articles published in national and regional defense journals, and frequents the defense lecture circuit. Currently, he is focused on the near and long-term impact of US-China rivalry upon the region including the Philippines.

Expert 10 is lead convenor of one of the active non-government organizations (NGOs) that act as a watchdog of ruling administrations. This expert has had intimate and extensive experiences with both traditional as well as non-traditional politics especially during the Aquino, Ramos, and Estrada administrations.

Expert 11 is an experienced regional analyst formerly with the NSC. He has authored a number of books, writes a column for a national daily, and runs a radio program. A frustrated politician, he counts among his circle those engaged in politics, business, civil society, diplomacy, and defense, among others.

Expert 12 is a senior analyst and consultant for a major media organization and an operations research graduate of the University of New South Wales. She was formerly with the Philippine Information Agency (PIA).

Expert 13 is a renowned media practitioner and analyst of national and world affairs. A former adviser to ex-President Fidel V. Ramos, he currently writes a column for a national daily. He is also co-convenor of a nongovernmental watchdog organization.

Expert 14 is a renowned media practitioner who co-authored the book Under the crescent Moon: Rebellion in Mindanao (2000). She has covered the defense beat as a reporter for a number of years before becoming Managing Editor of Newsbreak magazine and part of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ).

Expert 15 is a veteran in the field of information technology (IT) who has worked for a decade in Singapore and is currently a top management executive for a multinational company operating in the Philippines.

Expert 16 was an army officer and a graduate of the elite United States Military Academy at West Point. A holder of a master’s degree in business administration from Ateneo de Manila University, he wrote the draft of the 1998 defense policy paper entitled In defense of the Philippines published when Fortunato Abat was Secretary of Defense. A crusader against corruption in the bureaucracy, he co-founded Actions Against Tyranny and Corruption Now (ACT NOW) and was a business executive for a multinational company based in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Using a Delphi method of inquiry and SWOT analysis, the views of non-government experts were documented and analyzed. Two sets of recommendations are presented, one drawn from a summary of the recommendations given by the experts and the other from the application of TOWS analysis.

The following threats and opportunities to Philippine national security have been identified by the expert-respondents.

Among the threats to national security identified by the sixteen experts are: International terrorists; the communist terrorist movement (CTM); Southern Philippines secessionist groups (SPSGs); military adventurists; political instability, poor governance, poor leadership, and graft and corruption; economic instability, poverty, and globalization; external exploitation, US-China shadow play in Asia; domestic and transnational crime; environmental and health disasters; and social crises.

The threat of terrorism, both from the international groups like the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and the locally operating CTM, is high on the list. Some experts describe terrorism as the worst case scenario involving national security since it affects all of the political, economic, and social aspects of life.

The CTM and the political power of the Left are cited by twelve experts as the primary threat to the Philippines, with the Left’s influence seen as having contributed to the reactive policy decisions of the incumbent administration. Other threat groups identified by the respondents include the military adventurists, crime syndicates, and SPSGs (MILF and the Abu Sayyaf Group or ASG). Suspected links between certain SPSGs and the JI cannot be discounted.

According to three respondents, the threat of a coup has remained due to a precarious political state. However, the possibility of it actually happening has been greatly diminished due to the lessons of the past, as well as it being effectively checked by the administration and military leadership.

Crime, including those perpetrated against our overseas workers, remains as a threat as in most countries.

Natural disasters have also been cited by eight respondents as a potent threat. The Philippines continues to be hounded by typhoons, floods, and earthquakes on a yearly basis. On top of these, regional and global disasters, as well as exotic diseases which have mutated now threaten the country. The landslides in Quezon which killed thousands and rendered many homeless have been a grim reminder not only of the ever present danger of disasters but also as a wake-up call to us on how we manage our natural resources so that their deterioration does not become a threat to national security. Elsewhere, the bird flu pandemic hovers as a potent catastrophe of global proportions. These and many others like them are enough reason for any nation to include disasters among the threats to national security that should be effectively managed.

Data provided by the experts suggest that the Philippines is undergoing several crises simultaneously:

a) An economic crisis, of which the fiscal crisis is just one element, brought about by a weak national economy that heavily relies on foreign debt, investment inflows, and OFW remittances. Unbridled consumerism drains away our scarce foreign currency reserves to pay for non-essential imports. In part, this crisis is due to our gullibility at having allowed the demise of our local industries in the pursuit of the free trade arguments espoused by the west through globalization. Globalization, in fact, is seen as a threat in the way it affects the entire economy and the Philippine workforce.

b) A poverty crisis, where more than sixty percent of Filipinos now self-rate themselves as living in subhuman conditions, including the middle class who now find themselves being sucked below the poverty line. This poverty crisis is aggravated by the country’s huge population. A large population naturally consumes more resources necessitating increased production. However, if a large segment of that population is also characterized by poverty and certain inadequacies that hinder production at the needed fast rate, population then becomes a liability.

c) A family dislocation and social crisis, brought about by the massive emigration of Filipino workers abroad, caused in turn by lack of jobs and livelihood opportunities here at home;

d) A spiraling oil crisis, driven by the increasing need for fossil fuel despite its limits, damage to refinery capacity due to bad weather, instability in the Middle East, and China’s desire to unload its US dollar reserves (owing to its huge trade surplus) in exchange for strategic resources that it needs;

e) A deep-seated societal or moral crisis among our people, manifested by shameless greed, crime (both foreign and domestic), unprincipled opportunism, a culture of predatory behavior in our social interaction patterns, and symbiotic graft and corruption between the public and private sectors;

f) An attitudinal crisis among Filipinos, characterized by a mixture of public frustration, disillusionment, cynicism, distrust of the political system as a whole and its structures of government, and dim expectations about the ability to attain a better quality of life;

g) A political fragmentation crisis, arising from personality-focused partisan politics, parochial goals and agenda, and the corollary self-seeking motives of the larger base of supporters, who do so in the hope of furthering their own gains and personal agenda. Some respondents even cite that the biggest threat to our national security in the here and now is poor governance by the national leadership;

h) An almost irreversible environmental crisis, due to profit-driven and unsustainable policies which government has followed in allowing favored individuals and private businesses to extract natural resources faster than what nature can regenerate, with spotty regard for their environmental impact;

i) A sovereignty crisis, as foreign powers secretly intervene over our national territory, particularly Mindanao, in the pursuit of their own unilateral economic and military security interests;

j) An education crisis, indicated by the alarming drop in the ability of students to think systematically and to express their ideas and thoughts coherently, as well as the exodus of teachers for better paying jobs overseas, leaving behind those who do not know their subjects, or who do not know how to teach, or both;

k) A selective memory and understanding crisis, as the general public is urged to forget the past and move on towards the future, even without Filipinos undergoing the prior and requisite processes of self-critique and historical contextualization;

l) A territorial integrity crisis that has the state and its military and other law enforcement bodies in a quandary as to the extent of their law enforcement jurisdictions. It is a must that the country delineates its borders, but doing so would require the country to know its base points and baselines, determined in accordance with both domestic and international laws. It is about time that the Philippine government, particularly Congress, acts on the bills presented to it in relation to this issue.

The experts are of the opinion that our difficulties arise from our collective failure to realize the importance and urgency of knowing another kind of truth, something which few seem to be aware of or willing to talk about—the historical truth of how we have been divided as a people, intervened upon, and kept perennially at odds with one another, while foreign interests use the twin tools of economic cooptation and political patronage on their Filipino political surrogates and economic agents to feast on our national economy and profitably exploit our national patrimony.

The historical truth has sunk so deeply out of sight below the public’s level of awareness that we no longer notice it. The problem is that what we cannot be aware of, we cannot objectify. What we cannot hold up before public scrutiny, we cannot study. And what we cannot thoroughly analyze, we can never fully understand. Like fish swimming in the ocean, today’s Filipinos may be aware of everything around them, except the waters in which they swim and live. This socio-political psychopathy is seen as the root cause of our fractious partisan politics, person-oriented leader/supporter relationships, and intense social fragmentation.

Our greatest danger is that majority of Filipinos do not understand the true meaning of national self-reliance, and do not feel the urgent need to build a strong, just, and sovereign nation-state as the way to avoid national collapse. Our entire society suffers from an attitudinal, perceptual, and behavioral psychopathy that manifests itself in terms of weak socio-civic cohesion and our failure to mature into a genuine participative democracy.

As US and China escalate their economic and military rivalries, the Philippines is placed in the midst of contending national interests that present the possibility of our becoming a mere vassal territory. This delicate situation is complicated further because of several bilateral agreements that the current administration has entered into. These include:

  1. Memorandum of Understanding on Defense Cooperation between the Department of National Defense of the Republic of the Philippines and the Ministry of National Defense of China, signed on 08 November 2004;
  2. Memorandum of Understanding on Mining Cooperation between the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and China’s Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM), signed on 18 January 2005;
  3. Supplemental Memorandum of Understanding Between the North Luzon Railways Corporation and China National Machinery and Equipment Corp., signed on 01 Sept 2004; and
  4. Agreement for Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking on Certain Areas in the South China Sea By and Between the Philippine National Oil Company (PNOC) and China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), signed on 01 September 2004.

To a number of respondents, however, poor national governance is currently the biggest and most immediate threat to our national security. Poor governance is a catch-all phrase that includes all the failures of the national leaders going all the way back to President Ferdinand E. Marcos. This includes the failure to reduce the population growth rate fast enough, collect adequate taxes, enforce laws consistently and equitably in private and public life, join the export boom in the seventies and eighties and ride the tourism boom in the nineties, curb corruption, create enough jobs in the domestic economy, and end the long-running Maoist insurgency.

But the biggest failure of all is the failure of our national leaders to articulate and propagate among the broad mass of the population a sense of national purpose that even the poorest of the poor can relate to. They have failed to conceptualize and articulate for us a national purpose, a consciousness of a shared destiny that can inspire us—rich, middle class, poor—to outdo ourselves above and beyond the daily toil for individual survival.

Political instability from a failure in governance is really the basis of our national insecurity at the moment besides which a theoretical threat from the JI and the present nuisance from a sputtering Maoist insurgency pale in comparison. A putative invasion from China or any other country is not even in the radar screen.

The opportunities for the enhancement of Philippine national security as identified by the experts are: Socioeconomic cooperation and defense alliance with international partners; international market for Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs); trend towards domestic and international dialogue and negotiations; technological development; political reforms; and globalization.

Given the country’s resource constraints owing to a struggling economy, the Philippines has the option to maximize its defense alliances with other countries in order to compensate for such weakness. The US-led global war against international terrorism certainly presents a timely opportunity to get funds for AFP modernization to maximize AFP efforts at reducing terrorist activities in the Philippines. Closer to the region, enhanced links with Australia could also benefit the country in terms of expanded defense cooperation to include not only human resource development and logistics, but also intelligence sharing.

Another identified opportunity is the increasing influence of the Philippines in the global arena. This is evident in the recent Philippine presidency in the United Nations Security Council in June 2004 and September 2005 and the recent chairing by the Philippine President of the United Nations (UN ) Summit. The Philippines also has a number of initiatives in other regional and multilateral fora that have gained wide attention and endorsement.

The Philippines’ OFWs benefit the country in two ways: Economically, through annual remittances in billions of US dollars that greatly cushion the country’s weak economic performance; and politically, as the country learns to appreciate, develop, and properly utilize its human resources as contributors to national security even by merely helping the Philippine economy. Thus, the country’s human resources are among its most potent resources toward the enhancement of its national security. As remarked by a foreign respondent, the Philippines has intelligent, vibrant people in all walks of life who, if given a chance, can make a decent, honest living and contribute to the nation’s overall economic, social, and political health.

Technological development is another opportunity that, when harnessed, could enhance the country’s national security. Development in the field of communications alone already goes a long way in facilitating the conduct of day-to-day affairs.

The advent of the cellular phone industry has revolutionized the way people conduct their affairs, enabling communication anywhere to be conducted within minutes or even seconds. The conduct of warfare itself continues to be altered by technology. For instance, revolution in military affairs has enabled the US to conduct a Star Wars-type operation in Iraq and Kuwait in Operation Desert Storm. The use of naval and air power has certainly magnified the invincibility of armies and greatly increasing the lethality of the battlefield. Any country therefore which possesses a decent military is bound to likewise enhance its national security if not in the battlefield then as a deterrent against potential adversaries. Unfortunately, a weak economy prevents the Philippines from fully exploiting the potentials of having a credible military.