MANILA – Like previous commanders-in-chief before him, President Ferdinand "Bongbong" R. Marcos Jr. vowed to "defend every square inch of the country's territory".
In this regard, the Department of National Defense (DND) has a vital role in protecting the country’s territories and upholding its sovereignty.
While going to war is not an option, the Philippines has made significant gains in terms of upgrading its territorial defense capability through the acquisition of military assets and escalation of maritime patrols to combat the threat of terrorism and prevent incursions that may ignite tensions.
The Marcos administration is expected to take over the Revised Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Modernization Program, which is now about to enter its Third Horizon from 2023 to 2028.
The AFP Modernization Program's Horizon Two is scheduled for 2018 to 2022 while Horizon One covered the years 2013 to 2017 and resulted in the acquisition of the three Del Pilar-class frigates, 12 FA-50PH light-lift interim fighters, and two strategic sealift vessels, among others.
Boosting aerial defense
On July 1, Marcos expressed his support for a modernized AFP when he attended the 75th founding anniversary of the Philippine Air Force (PAF) at the Clark Air Base in Pampanga.
In his message, the President vowed to continue the ongoing defense initiatives to enable the PAF to keep the country "free, progressive, and secured”.
"The ongoing defense modernization effort is in coordination with the basic prerequisites that would complement this administration's vision for a stronger, bigger, and effective air force, capable of defending and maintaining our sovereign state and of assisting our people in times of dire consequences and today's reality," he said.
The President added that he will seek further improvement of the aerial and surveillance capabilities of the PAF, considering that the Philippines has territorial disputes with other countries.
He vowed to equip the PAF with additional "state-of-the-art" fighter planes and arm it with more firepower.
"The enhancement of the PAF's capabilities is one of the top priorities of this administration. A more modern aerial and surveillance capability is all the more felt, given the territorial disputes that we in the Philippines are involved in," the Chief Executive added.
The Air Force, meanwhile, lauded the President's announcements and vowed to coordinate and work with the new administration to ensure that the service's modernization will continue without fail.
"We will continue to work, and help the new leadership make the pronouncement a reality, our Technical Working Group is working round the clock to be able to present viable projects and solutions to challenges for the PAF modernization," PAF spokesperson Col. Maynard Mariano said in a message to the Philippine News Agency (PNA).
He added that these preparations will allow senior military and defense leaders to make a decision on the PAF's modernization requirements.
"(Preparing these viable projects and solutions will) make it ready for senior AFP/DND senior leadership decisions," Mariano said.
Mariano earlier said the PAF is currently in the process of choosing between the latest model of the American-made Lockheed Martin F-16s and the Swedish-made Saab JAS-39 for its multi-role fighter (MRF) project.
While the project has been approved by the past administration, the PAF said funds have yet to be allocated for it.
PAF chief Lt. Gen. Connor Anthony Canlas Sr. said the deal for the MRF project may be signed this year.
The project also requires 12 MRFs at least capable of patrolling the country's protected waters and airspace.
The MRF is part of Horizon Two of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Modernization Program, which aims to acquire more equipment for external defense.
Maritime territorial defense
The Marcos administration will also see the fruition of the Philippines’ offshore patrol vessel (OPV) deal with South Korean shipbuilder Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI).
The PHP30-billion deal signed by former defense secretary Delfin Lorenzana and HHI vice chairperson and president Sam Hyun Ka last June 28 seeks to provide six OPVs to the Philippine Navy (PN).
The OPV project aims to further enhance the maritime patrol capabilities of the PN and includes technology transfer, particularly human engineering operators and maintenance training of equipment, operations training, technical publications and manuals.
Last June 16, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) released initial funding of PHP3 billion for the OPV project under Special Allotment Release Order (SARO)-BMD-D-22-0004970.
Taking cue from Marcos’ marching orders, DND officer-in-charge Undersecretary Jose Faustino Jr. vowed to continue the initiatives started by Lorenzana, who left behind a legacy of jumpstarting the military’s modernization.
Under Lorenzana’s watch, the military has acquired several high-end military equipment like the two Jose Rizal-class guided missile frigates, two AgustaWestland AW-159 "Wildcat" anti-submarine helicopters, 16 S-70i "Black Hawk" combat utility helicopters, and six A-29B "Super Tucano" attack aircraft.
He also discussed his priorities such as defending the nation’s territorial integrity, protecting the Filipino people and ensuring state sovereignty.
During his first official visit to the Puerto Princesa, Palawan-based Western Command (Wescom) last July 14, Faustino also assured the continuity of all infrastructure projects of the command under the “Tatag ng Imprastraktura para sa Kapayapaan at Seguridad" (TIKAS) Convergence Program of the DND and the Department of Public Works and Highways.
"We will prioritize mission essential infrastructures in all Philippine-held islands in the Kalayaan Island Group and the West Philippine Sea," he added.
During his visit, Faustino met with Wescom commander Vice Adm. Alberto B. Carlos Jr. and ranking officials and reiterated the guidance of President Marcos.
"We will ensure the smooth implementation of our modernization program in order to strengthen the protection of our sovereignty, defense of our territorial integrity, and ensure the continuity of our peaceful way of life. Indeed, the future will be so bright with us working in unity, manifested by our consistent and synergized actions," he added.
He also called his posting to the DND an honor and expressed his appreciation for the warm response of its officials and employees to his appointment.
Faustino, a retired AFP chief-of-staff, will assume office as defense secretary on Nov. 13, after the one-year appointment ban on retired military officials.
He retired as AFP chief after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 56 on November 12, 2021. (PNA)