New AFP chief: Troops won't abandon West PH Sea territories
MANILA, Philippines – On his first day as Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief, Lieutenant General Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr gave an assurance that Filipino soldiers will not abandon the country's territories in the West Philippines Sea (South China Sea).
"We will just maintain our presence. Our mandate is to protect our territorial interests in the area. We will find ways and means to improve operations to resupply our soldiers deployed there," Catapang told reporters in his first press briefing as AFP chief on Friday, July 18.
Catapang said the last resupply mission to Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal) conducted last month was smooth. It was not like the rotation mission in March when the Chinese Coast Guard blocked the previous rotation mission leading to escalated tension in the West Philippines Sea.
China has been calling on the Philippines to remove the grounded ship in Ayungin Shoal that has served as a naval detachment for the Filipino Marines.
In protecting the country's territory, Catapang said the soldiers will not engage in provocative acts. They will support the country's diplomatic strategy in resolving maritime conflict especially against the increasingly aggressive China.
"We will pursue diplomacy and uphold the rule of law. We will continue our presence there. In those areas they have already occupied, we will not be provocative. We will not unnecessarily provoke other countries so that there will be an unintentional shooting in the area," Catapang said. (READ: Little-known fact: PH and China are defense partners)
Catapang said the military will continue to monitor activities in the West Philippine Sea and let Malacañang decide what to do.
"This is not a question of who is the more courageous military. What we need is diplomacy and rule of law. That is the guidance of the commander in chief. We soldiers serve as the country's muscle. We will follow orders as soon as they are given," Catapang said.
Catapang assumed as AFP chief at a time when the military is shifting its focus from internal security to territorial defense. He said modernization will be focused on territorial defense. (READ: A general's long wait: Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr)
President Benigno Aquino III has adopted AFP modernization as one of his administration's priorities. But his speech during the change of command ceremony was more diplomatic compared to previous pronouncements against China's aggressiveness.
"Linawin ko lang din po: Hindi tayo namimili ng mga bagong kagamitang panseguridad para palalain ang tensyon sa ating rehiyon. Sa halip, ginagawa natin ito para maging mas mahusay ang ating pagtugon sa anumang hamon; pinagtitibay natin ang ating kahandaang magligtas ng buhay ng ating mga kababayan, lalo pa’t may dalang mga panibagong hamon ang pagbabago ng klima," Aquino said.
(Let me make it clear. We are not buying modern security assets to worsen the tension in the region. Instead, we ar doing this so we can better respond to the new challenges. We are improving our readiness to save the people's lives especially because of the dangers of climate change.)
Catapang recognized that maritime conflict and climate change will be among the biggest challenges he will face.
He vowed to continue the programs of his predecessor General Emmanuel Bautista, a classmate in the Philippine Military Academy Class of 1981.
President Aquino and Catapang have known each other since the 80s. In his speech, Aquino recalled Catapang's idealism in fighting the Marcos dictatorship.
"Naaalala ko nung nagkakilala tayo noong bandang EDSA revolution, kung saan natuldukan ang pagiging magkasalungat ng Sandatahang Lakas at ng mamamayang Pilipino. Nandoon ka, nakibahagi, at tiwala akong hindi pa nawawala ang maalab na ideyalismong nakita ko sa iyo noon," Aquino said. (I remember when we met around the time of the EDSA Revolution, when the division between the armed forces and the people was ended. You were there, you participated, and I am confident that your idealism will continue to prevail.)
He challenged Catapang to do better than his predecessor. "Ngayong ikaw na ang nasa pinakamataas na posisyon sa AFP, mapaigting mo pa sana ang ugnayang napasimulan ni Manny Sundalo sa pagitan ng ating mga unipormadong hanay at ng ating mga mamamayan," he said.
(Now that you are holding the top position in the AFP, may you continue the links that Manny Sundalo forged between the military and the people.) – Rappler.com