President Marcos wants military to catch up, be back on track in 2 yrs amid security threats

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. wants the Armed Forces of the Philippines to modernize faster and catch up with the rest of the world following the setback caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Kung ano ‘yung schedule natin, medyo naatras lang nang kaunti because of the pandemic. But now, we are proceeding back to our established schedule,” the President told reporters during the graduation rites of the Philippine Army Officer Candidate Course “Gaigmat” Class 58-2023 in Taguig City.

“Hopefully, we will catch up and, in a year, maybe two, we will already be back to where we were supposed to be at that time before the pandemic,” he said.

The AFP modernization program involves the acquisition of modern vessels, aircraft and equipment to enable the military to address external threats such as the West Philippine Sea territorial conflict.

In 2016, the UN Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, based on a case filed by the Philippines, dismissed China’s nine-dash line claim covering the entire South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea. It was a major legal victory for the Philippines, but China has refused to acknowledge the ruling.

President Marcos said he met with commanders of the AFP to discuss the need for the military to address the present challenges the country is facing.

The President said the meetings would help the government in the procurement plans for the AFP, adding that training the members of the security forces is “one of the most important things”.

The AFP revised its military acquisition plan with its ongoing modernization program, with Horizon 3 starting this year. It would be the final phase of the modernization thrust which will include the acquisition of equipment geared for external defense.

On Thursday, no less than US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III reiterated its support for the Philippines under the Mutual Defense Treaty. Austin expressed serious concern over China’s “coercive and risky” behavior after Chinese vessels reportedly harassed Philippine boats in the Ayungin Shoal on June 30, 2023, according to the Pentagon.

Austin conveyed his concern during a call to Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro on Thursday, based on a readout provided by Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder.

The Philippine Coast Guard reported on Wednesday that two Chinese coast guard vessels took what it described as “dangerous maneuvers” that could have caused a collision with PCG ships assisting the resupply mission of the Armed Forces of the Philippines near Ayungin Shoal.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said the maneuvers of their vessels during the June 30 incident were “professional and restrained.”

Austin during his conversation with Teodoro, “highlighted the United States’ ironclad alliance commitment with the Philippines and reiterated that the Mutual Defense Treaty extends to Philippine public vessels, aircraft, and armed forces — to include those of its Coast Guard — in the Pacific, including anywhere in the South China Sea,” according to the readout.

It said Austin and Teodoro reaffirmed their commitment to upholding the rules-based order and supporting the livelihoods of local Philippine communities in the South China Sea consistent with the Arbitral Tribunal Ruling in 2016.