Defense department in challenging times
MANILA – Secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana today said the Department of National Defense is facing a set of problems and has been very busy containing COVID-19 while attending to perennial problems like insurgency, terrorism and challenges to national sovereignty.
“We have to balance and prioritize our activities,” Lorenzana said before the National Defense College of the Philippines, its alumni, members of the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines, Defense Press Corps and members of the Academe Thursday morning.
He admitted Covid-19 has complicated the job of the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines in fighting insurgency, maintaining peace and order, countering terrorism and mitigating disasters.
“COVID-19 occupies most of our time and we are lucky we do not have disasters, from typhoons to earthquakes and other calamities,” he said.
“On a positive note, our national efforts have minimized the mortality rate of COVID-19 patients. Thanks to the best practices of doctors and health workers who have improved, refined their scientific approach to the pandemic,” he said. He added while COVID-19 is a health crisis, the national action plan they continue to implement relies on a whole of government approach where all the departments and agencies are supportive in the desire to face the challenge.
Secretary Lorenzana admitted while the pandemic persists, the tension in the West Philippine Sea continues.
“Four years after the The Hague ruling that favored the Philippines, the South China Sea region remains to be a contested geopolitical space and a potential flashpoint,” he said. He identified China as “the most assertive and aggressive of the claimant states.” The country’s top defense executive said there has been a slight increase in incursions and harassments perpetrated by Chinese vessels, both military and civilian against the Philippine Navy, Philippine Air Force, Philippine Coast Guard and Filipino fishermen.
“From August 2019 to early 2020 along there were almost 20 counts of harassment which involved the People’s Liberation Army, China Coast Guard, commercial fishing vessels and Chinese maritime militia. We recall the sinking of the Filipino fishing vessel Gemver by a Chinese fishing vessel in June last year and the aiming of weapons control radar of Chinese Navy ship on a Philippine Navy ship recently and the sinking of another Filipino fishing vessel off Mindoro,” he explained.
However, he added Chinese aggression is not limited to the Philippines as similar incidents took place against Vietnam and Malaysia.
“Weighing these events, the Philippine government believes that matters of sovereignty can be prudently solved or best be resolved in peaceful and diplomatic channels,” he said. He explained the Department of Foreign Affairs has lodged diplomatic protests for all actions by China that violates Philippine laws and national sovereignty.
Secretary Lorenzana describes the deferment of the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States as “a development towards the balancing of powers in the West.”
He also said the Armed Forces of the Philippines “has significantly downgraded the capabilities of the Communist terrorist group making them at least, not as before.” He claimed the government has also gained substantial ground in obliterating financial channels or stopping the financial channels and sources of many terror groups in the country and diminishing their international support by exposing their true nature.
He admitted while they are attending to their additional mandate to implement programs against COVID-19 which takes most of their time, they are busy doing their traditional jobs of fighting insurgency, maintaining peace and order, countering terrorism ad mitigating the impact of disasters.
“Let’s knock on wood no disaster takes palce and hopefully before these calamities come and visit us again, we will be able ti fight or stop this pandemic,” the Defense executive concluded. (Melo M. Acuña)