Military should address ‘evolving’ security threats – Ex-defense chief

Jodesz Gavilan

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Military should address ‘evolving’ security threats – Ex-defense chief
Former defense secretary Orlando Mercado says there should be 'a lot more effort' to establish good intelligence gathering and sharing among security forces in the Philippines

MANILA, Philippines – It’s already time for the “still very traditional” Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to reorganize and reassess its capability to keep up with “evolving” national threats, former defense secretary Orlando Mercado said.

“I would like to believe that there is time for us to seriously look at military organization and find out how we are constituted and make it match the developing assessment of the threats,” he told editor-at-large Marites Vitug during a Rappler Talk interview on Monday, August 6.  

One of the changes it can implement to address national threats is better intelligence gathering and sharing among security forces.

“[Threats] are morphing so fast that there is a real need to bring down to the operations levels a lot more effort to be able to establish good intelligence gathering and so that it’ll allow us to respond early on to face this crisis,” Mercado said. 

The Marawi siege, he said, should serve as a lesson for the military when it comes to the fact that these groups “are continually operating and building their capacity.”  

Many experts – even lawmakers – previously pointed out the failure of the government to detect signs that led to the Marawi crisis, which led the death of least 147 government forces, 45 civilians, and displacement of at least 600,000 Filipinos. (READ: The war in Marawi: 153 days and more)

‘Painful’ but necessary

The former defense chief, however, acknowledged the nuances when it comes to intelligence. Careers, after all, “can be made and destroyed by mishandling, sharing, or even not sharing information.”

Competent intelligent gathering organizations that “do not talk to each other” may lead to futile efforts to counter threats. Allowing exchanges and flow of information will result in seeing a “better picture” of national security.

“We must focus attentions on what we call near-misses as much as lessons learned from our previous experiences,” Mercado said. “It’s only a matter of time that this thing will happen again and it will take a new form which we are unable to see from the very beginning so the demand really is to seriously get better information.” 

And while reorganizing the military will definitely affect careers, positions, and designations and doing this is difficult, Mercado said it can be implemented “with the least pain.”

“It can be done with some levels of understanding how it can evolve with the least pain for those who have developed their careers because that can be a real source of discontent,” he said. 

“It takes time for the military organization to accept these particular changes but most military establishments are changing already, even China has reformed,” Mercado added. –

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Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and impunity beats, producing in-depth and investigative reports particularly on the quest for justice of victims of former president Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs and war on dissent.