WITH the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) now gaining the upper hand in its campaign against the New People’s Army (NPA) insurgents and their allies, the military announced that it would shift to its “territorial defense” mode once the remaining communist rebels are totally defeated.
AFP chief Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr., during their Command Conference on Monday, January 15, 2024, said military ground commanders were given a “new set of targets” aimed at totally neutralizing the insurgents.
“By doing that, we will be able to shift now to territorial defense,” he said.
SOME of the territorial defense operations include the conduct of more air and naval patrols in the country’s vast maritime territories and monitoring of sea lines of communications.
Meanwhile, operations conducted against the NPA and other local terrorist groups will be termed as “internal security operations.”
In the same event, Brawner said AFP operations against the NPAs were very successful in 2023 as it is now only facing 11 “weakened guerrilla fronts,” lower than the 13 previously reported.
In 2016, there were a total of 89 active guerrilla fronts nationwide.
Despite this, Brawner said the AFP is still on guard as there are still NPA formations trying to recover areas and supporters lost to them.
When asked how many NPAs are left nationwide, Brawner said estimates put the remaining insurgents at “a little over 1,500.”
This is significantly lower compared to the 25,000 recorded during the ’80s up to the early ’90s, he added.
AT the time of the interview, Brawner said Horizon 3 of the AFP Modernization Program is aimed at beefing up the archipelagic defense capabilities of the military.
This defense concept is designed to safeguard the country’s 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The equipment required to execute this mission encompasses long-range radar, ships, aircraft, and the necessary weapon systems.
Horizon 3 was scheduled from 2023 to 2028, while Horizon 2 was from 2018 to 2022 and Horizon 1 from 2013 to 2017.
In October, the AFP chief stated that the recommendation to reconfigure Horizon 3, enabling the military to acquire equipment capable of defending the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), came from Defense Secretary Gilberto “Gibo” C. Teodoro Jr. shortly after his appointment to the post in June of last year.
Teodoro issued the directive after observing that the previous Horizon 3 list was more inclined toward “territorial defense in depth,” implying that the AFP had to wait for threats to approach closely before taking action.
The DND chief exact term for the then proposed shift was “rehorizon” and said that it will be presented to President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. for approval.
So, this remained the status quo until Teodoro, in the Manila Overseas Press Club forum on January 23, 2024, disclosed that the Chief Executive had approved the “Rehorizon 3” capability enhancement and modernization program of the AFP.
“We are embarking into what we call the ‘Rehorizon 3’ capability enhancement and modernization program where the President recently approved an array of capabilities, which will range from our domain awareness, our connectivity, our intelligence capabilities, or C4iSTAR, communication, intelligence capabilities, command and control, to our area denial and deterrence capabilities on both the maritime and the aerial domains,” he said.
Teodoro said these capabilities would be highlighted in the coming equipment acquisitions for the AFP.
Aside from this, the DND chief said that they have also requested from Congress the necessary budget for the maintenance, operation and training of the people who will be handling this equipment.
Teodoro said this is to ensure that this equipment will be utilized in areas where the country needs to have “significant presence” like the West Philippine Sea (WPS), where “violations of our territorial integrity and sovereignty” cannot be tolerated.
The DND chief also confirmed that the AFP is now transitioning on a new defense concept called the “Comprehensive Archipelagic Defense Concept” where the military will develop its capabilities to protect Philippine corporations, nationals and groups engaged by the government to help in the exploration and extraction of natural resources to be found in its EEZ and other areas it has jurisdiction.
Teodoro said this is needed to ensure “unimpeded and peaceful exploration and exploitation” of resources in these areas.
“So, rather than an inward-looking defense concept, we are evolving into a defense concept, which projects our power into our areas where we must, by Constitutional fiat and duty, protect and preserve our resources,” he noted.
Protecting PHL interests abroad
TEODORO also stressed the need to have the capability to protect its interests overseas in the near future.
“For example, we will have to have the ability to protect Philippine interests in the future. Maybe not in my lifetime, but we lay down the building blocks for protecting Philippine interests and Philippine nationals in an increasingly volatile and unpredictable world. For example, should we need to import oil in areas which are heavy with pirates, heavy with international criminals, we will have to have the wherewithal to protect Philippine vessels and other interests in those areas,” he added.
And this does not only involve the acquisition of equipment, Teodoro said.
“We have to marshal the resources of making the best of what we have, making sure that acquisitions made are supportable, sustainable, and redundancy is built in,” the DND chief noted.
More engagement with allies
TEODORO said the country would increase the tempo of its activities with allies and other major partners, not only in the WPS but in other areas of the country as well.
“We will exercise these partnerships to the full, and it is within our unquestionable right to do so as a sovereign country. Several countries are interested in joining us,” he added.
In line with this, Teodoro said the Philippines had just signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) for Defense Cooperation with the United Kingdom and Canada recently.
“With other countries, the MOU list is growing. This will allow us to access, on a government-to-government basis, different capabilities. We are also on the probably last stretch of signing a Reciprocal Access Agreement, which is like a VFA (Visiting Forces Agreement) with the government of Japan, which will allow greater interoperability between that country and us,” he added.
Image credits: AP/Aaron Favila