Friday, January 07, 2011

External threat and the Navy, part 2

(Note: The exchanges at my friend Rommel Banlaoi's facebook status on the Philippine Navy continued. I post here my additional ideas on the subject, with some brief quotes from other persons in the exchanges.)

A modern navy or maritime police or coastguard or LGU boats, to deal with internal issues like fighting bandits and pirates, fighting huge smuggling of firearms and bombs for private armies, deploy soldiers quickly from the north to the south (and vice-versa), ocean search and rescue, etc. These are indeed valid concerns, but they have nothing to do with "external defense" anymore as for me, it is a non-existent threat, yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Bad governance by various government institutions will be with us for the next generation or more. So people should be cautious in advocating for "more government spending" in any or all sectors, from education to health to housing to the army and navy. Corruption and robbery is endemic in the government because there is no strong sense to promulgate the rule of law.

There were three important points from other people raised during the exchanges.

1. We have an extensive EEZ and a wealth of untapped resources in the sea and seabed over which UNCLOS grants us sovereign rights subject to certain int'l law provisions. Unfortunately, much of it is disputed territory and maritime areas where superior navies of neighboring countries operate. This is also why we need a strong navy....

2. Security is expensive much more with national security and defense. It is a choice the nation has to make if we want to ensure our sovereignty and protect our national interest, otherwise we just have to surrender them.

3. People in the forefronts of national defense and diplomatic relation to protect our interest say that most of the time, we are bullied.

4. High level of confidentiality in the AFP, peopLe are suspicious of the intent to modernize the AFP as they are afraid that the AFP might be used against them being internal-threats focused.

I am wondering how much will be the cost of enforcing those "exclusive RP territorial rights"? P50 B per year? More? And how much would be the projected gains from such full enforcement? It's like guarding song albums and movies against piracy. Compare the cost of intellectual property rights (IPR) enforcement vs. the gains from full enforcement. Usually the costs are far higher than the projected gains.

We are talking of several billion pesos per year of tax money on top of existing annual appropriations, just to enforce those exclusive territorial rights.

On #2 above, if the Philippines is just one or two big island/s in the Pacific, not 7,100+ scattered islands and islets, it should be easy to protect those exclusive rights like the 200 miles EEZ. Thus, the desire to protect natiional sovereignty and the logistics to actually protect it is easier to harmonize. If we are one big island. But it's not the case.

Pursuing a "strong modern navy" to do this job, even if resources are available, I think is the most costly and most impractical way to do it. Why not go towards satellite monitoring? Perhaps the Philippines should launch its own expensive satelllite, or pay handsome amount to existing satellites, and monitor movements within its EEZ 24/7, then send jet planes and/or armed boats to intercept and warn foreign trawlers, ocean miners, etc.

On #3, being bullied, I think that's what one will expect if one is possessive and at the same time inefficient and corrupt. Like a poor father who has many children to feed, the kids go to school on half-empty stomach and become malnourished, they can be bullied by bigger children. This case can be simiilar to a heavily indebted government scratching its head year after year where to borrow to fulfill obligations to dozens of "we need more tax money" agencies, bureaucracies and losing government corporations, and still aspire to claim far away islands and atolls to the exclusion of other claimant countries.

And on #4, that's one dilemma of a secretive institution like the AFP. I personally believe that lots of corruption are happening in the AFP. I see for instance where some active and retired AFP generals live, in expensive villages. They even have a special village near Libingan ng mga Bayani, many huge houses by AFP officials with at least 2 to 3 cars per big house.

Rommel made a good article, Recent Infrastructure Developments in the South China Sea: Towards Effective Occupation? He wrote,

China, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam have invested their resources to erect solid and more stable structures in their occupied areas. Philippine structures in its nine occupied territories remain modest and in the dismal stage of rapid deterioration. However, the Philippines occupy the most number of Islands... that are vegetated and suitable for human habitation if properly developed.

China does not occupy any island in the Spratlys. But its occupied reefs have solid and highly cemented structures. Majority of the areas occupied by Vietnam are also reefs. Like China, Vietnam’s occupied reefs have solid three-storey buildings that are identical. Though Taiwan only occupies one island, it is, however, the largest island in the Spratlys. Malaysia does not occupy any island like China. But all Malaysian occupied reefs are located in an area of huge oil and natural gas deposits...

If any of the six claimant countries -- Vietnam, China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei, Philippines -- would go to serious military positioning over those far away islands, I think richer Asian countries like Singapore and S. Korea will be laughing at them. Spreading their already thin resources on costly military facilities when their government (like RP) cannot even provide good quality elementary education, cannot even operate without borrowing huge money every year, what a hypocrisy.

Many health NGOs are frustrated that the RP government is not providing enough for the rural health clinics, for free medicines to the dying poor, etc. The government cannot even pacify Basilan, an island-province that is close to mainland Mindanao, Why aspire to spend big on so far away islands with far away business potentials?

This huge desire for more military spending on those concerns should be related to the level of corruption in the AFP and Department of National Defense (DND).

Talking about corruption in the military, a friend who teaches political science at the Univ. of the Philippines (UP), Dr. Bong Mendoza, wrote a good paper, Corruption in the Philippine military. Bong observed,

Corruption within the Philippine military is possible both in times of war and peace. During times of peace, military corruption occurs in several key areas. These include:

* Procurement of non-military equipment and supplies
* Procurement of military equipment, hardware and defense supplies;
* Bloating of servicemen and veterans’ rolls; and
* Operation of criminal rackets including gun-running, smuggling, protection of crime- and warlords, etc.

Corruption during combat operations

During the conduct of actual combat operations, corruption can take the form of the intentional loss of equipment and supplies with the eventual intent of selling the same for private profit. This is possible since it is easy to claim such a loss during the heat of combat. It is also difficult to audit how much ammunition was expended during a military operation. So corrupt/criminal commanders can report they used so much ammo and lost so much firearms and equipment but the actual ammo expenditure is actually so much less and no firearms and equipment were actually lost. The differential is spirited away and sold even to warlords and the guerillas themselves for private gain.

I suggest that readers read that good paper by Bong.

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