MANILA, Philippines – Partido Lakas ng Masa (PLM) standard-bearer Leody de Guzman said that if would become the next president, he would focus on economic development and fostering peace, rather than on the country’s military.
The presidential aspirant said this in an interview with DZRH on Wednesday, January 26, when asked what he would do in relation to the Philippines’ reputation as a military laggard in the region.
“Ako, hindi ako masyadong focused tungkol diyan sa mga militar. Ayoko ng giyera. Unang-una, ayoko ng giyera, ang gusto ko ay kapayapaan at ang gusto ko ay ekonomiya ng ating bansa,” De Guzman said.
(I am not too focused on the military. I don’t want war. First of all, I don’t want war, what I want is peace and the economic development of our country.)
He added: “Pero ‘yong usapin ng pagpapalakas ng armas ay hindi ako diyan naka-focus. Hindi ko ‘yan iniisip. Dahil tingin ko, sa kalagayan ng ating bansa ngayon, malabo na tayong makahabol pa kung sa karera ng mga armas,” the labor leader said.
(I am not focused on the strengthening our arms capability. I’m not thinking about that. For me, with the current state of our country, w cannot keep up with the arms race.)
The Philippines, which faces continuous threats from China for the past years, only ranked 51st out of 140 countries in terms of most powerful militaries in the world in the 2022 Global Firepower list. China ranked third behind the United States and Russia.
Although the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) modernization is ongoing, the Philippine military still lags behind its neighbors in terms of military capability. The Philippines may be the largest recipient of military donations from the US in Southeast Asia, but the country only started acquiring aerial and naval assets in the 1990s.
De Guzman said he wants the country’s military to be strong enough to allow Filipino fishermen to operate in the West Philippine Sea.
“Siguro magkaroon lang tayo talaga ng security doon sa ating sariling bansa para pangalagaan ‘yong seguridad ng ating mga mamamayan. Tiyakin na ‘yong ating mga mangingisda, lalo na doon sa West Philippine Sea, ay magabayan ng ating Navy na makapangisda,” the PLM bet explained.
(Maybe let’s have security in our country to protect the security of our citizens. We should ensure that our fisherfolk, especially in the West Philippine Sea, would be guided by our Navy.)
To beef up the country’s naval assets, additional funds for the Philippine Navy would be needed. However, according to former Navy chief Retired Vice Admiral Giovanni Carlo Bacordo, the reason why the Philippines lags behind is because of low appreciation from the country’s decision makers.
Aside from strengthening the Navy, more support for the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), a civilian agency, would also be needed since the PCG conducts maritime patrols to help Filipino fisherfolk. The Coast Guard has also been challenging Chinese ships entering Philippine waters.
Dealing with China
According to De Guzman, he would convince the signatories to the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) – especially fellow claimants in Southeast Asia – to pressure China into adhering to international treaties.
“Kaya dapat ay puwersahin ng iba’t ibang bansa na signatory doon, lalo na ‘yong mga nasa Southeast Asia na siyang may claim din diyan ang maging core para itulak ang mga signatories na bansa doon at obligahin ‘yong China na sumunod doon sa mga usapan,” the PLM standard bearer said.
(That’s why it’s important for those countries that are signatories in the UNCLOS, most especially those in Southeast Asia, which also have claims in the South China Sea, to pressure China to follow the agreements.)
De Guzman also said that if elected president, he would pursue an independent foreign policy free from both the Philippines’ traditional ally, the US, and China. – Rappler.com