MANILA, Philippine – China’s aggressive reclamation of reefs in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) has turned territorial defense into the country’s biggest security threat, National Security Adviser Cesar Garcia Jr told a Senate hearing on Thursday, May 7.
“Judging from the recent developments, particularly the reports of massive reclamation projects in our exclusive economic zone, it is now very clear that our territorial disputes in the West Philippine Sea has in fact overtaken all security issues in our hierarchy of national security issues,” Garcia said.
At the first congressional hearing, the military detailed China’s activities in the West Philippine Sea. Using a PowerPoint presentation, Palawan-based Western Command (Westcom) chief Vice Admiral Alexander Lopez showed the situation in the West Philippine Sea.
Chian has reclamation activities in 7 reefs in the Kalayaan Group of Islands (Spratlys) where it has deployed its assets. It also practically occupies Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal off the coast of Zambales province in Luzon. (READ: China continues to harass PH air patrols in West PH Sea)
The defense and military establishment called for bigger funding for the military modernization.
Armed Forces chief General Gregorio Catapang said they want at least 1% of the annual budget to finance modernization. Based on the 2015 budget, 1% means about P26 billion a year.
“That should be the benchmark….Capability cannot be developed overnight. It’s not like going to Shoemart and buying new shoes. It takes time,” Catapang said.
He added, “We do not have the luxury of time.”
Garcia said it’s time to free the AFP from its internal security obligations – communist insurgency and terrorism, among others – so it can focus on external defense. The readiness of the police to take on these responsibilities should be fast-tracked, he said.
“More than ever, it is very imperative to transition the Armed Forces from its domestic security focus towards an external or territorial defense role as rapidly as possible,” Garcia said.
The Philippines filed an international arbitration case against China’s aggression in the South China Sea, citing the country’s 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
The Senate hearing comes a a couple of months before a scheduled arbitration hearing scheduled in July, where the Philippines will affirm its case against China. – Rappler.com