Blueprint for Philippine Defense?

Philippine and American Training Exercise

The following news report appeared in Ariraing News last week. It is short and well worth reading. Commentary follows.


S. Korea-U.S. Joint Forces Sign New Defense Plan

Arirang News, March 25, 2013
Since North Korea’s torpedo attack on a South Korean warship and its shelling of a South Korean border island in 2010, the South Korea-U.S. joint military forces have been working on a plan to counter North Korean provocations more effectively.
After more than two years of talks, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Jung Seung-jo and the Commander of the U.S. Forces Korea General James Thurman signed a so-called “Joint Counter-Provocation Plan” on Friday which is a defense strategy led by South Korea, and supported by U.S. forces.
The plan went into effect immediately.
“With the completion of this plan, the South Korea-U.S. joint forces are now ready for strong and immediate counter actions against any North Korean provocation.”
The new defense plan calls for military aid by the U.S. armed forces when required by the South Korean forces.
Previously, the U.S. forces were allowed to participate in an inter-Korean military conflict when a full-fledged war breaks out.
The plan also lays out specific joint counter military strategies against various types of North Korean provocations. 
Despite rising inter-Korean military tensions, South Korea’s presidential office says it will offer humanitarian aid to North Korea and expand dialogue.. if Pyongyang doesn’t carry out further provocations and shows efforts to stick to its international obligations.
A senior official in the presidential office told Seoul-based Yonhap News Agency on Sunday, that the Park Geun-hye administration’s North Korea policy is different from that of the previous government’s hard-line policy.
The remarks follow President Park Geun-hye’s approval of a humanitarian aid shipment to North Korea by a private charity group on Friday.
Han Da-eun, Arirang News
This is a very unusual development. The U.S. will bow to the lead of South Korea.
American military leadership can do this confidently because multiple scenarios have been drawn up that define under what circumstances U.S. forces will engage, and how they will be deployed.
I would also suspect that South Korea has demonstrated a grasp of military strategy and execution that has gained the respect of top American military officials.
So we have a prototype plan here, do we not?
  1. Sovereignty of South Korea preserved; power of America standing ready.
  1. Specific agreements define what levels of U.S. force will be deployed in certain circumstances.
  1. Mutual confidence exists.
It took several years to finalize this plan, specifically, I would imagine, point 2. 
Can the Philippines craft a similar plan with the U.S. to counter China? After all, China is also being provocative. Some observations:
Point 1 is a given. The Philippines cannot be subordinate to U.S. military leadership.
Point 2 is a matter of time and talk, and having the Korean plan in place might shorten the timeframe. It can be the starting framework.
Point 3 is the crucial matter. Do American generals respect Philippine military leadership, discipline and thinking? I have no idea. But I can say with some confidence an opinion exists among the American generals based on joint training.
Under terms of the Visiting Forces Agreement (“VFA”), the U.S. will not allow her troops to be held in Philippine jails pending trial. I think this reflects the American military’s lack of confidence in Philippine legal and judicial processes.
Is the Philippine military in the same boat? Viewed with skepticism? Or do top Philippine generals, schooled in American military academies and a frequent partner in military training exercises, command the respect of America’s generals?  During training exercises, do they display the kind of crisp, firm decision-making required of top military leaders? 

I have no idea, but I don’t mind posing the blunt question in the back of some American minds: are Philippine generals top-notch capable, or are they generals because they were someone’s classmate?
The U.S. military will not subordinate American troops to Philippine generals in whom they have little confidence.
Very clearly, President Aquino would need a candid readout from American generals about Philippine competency. The President ought not think he can “sell” Philippine capability to American generals politically. They won’t buy what he is peddling. They will only buy competence.
If Philippine top generals are good, no problem. A Korean-style defense agreement ought to be drawn up.
If they are not good, they need to be changed or trained up more intensely than in the past. Philippine military leadership needs to be capable of commanding respect among very demanding, competent American generals.
I certainly have no idea of the character and capability of top Philippine generals. But I do know that Jun Abaya, former House Representative and head of the Department of Transportation and Communications (“DOTC”), ranked 2nd in his class academically at the U.S. Naval Academy. That gains huge respect points.
Maybe he’d make a superb general.
My point is that the top ranks have to be very, very good to impress American generals. You actually have to prove competence, not expect it because, well . . . we’re the Philippines.

You can bet that the U.S. is not inclined to subordinate its troops to the weak of judgment, skill or will. They’d have to explain the loss of American lives to American parents, spouses and children. They also have to deal with an American public that knows very little about the Philippines. But once a “deal” is announced, the press spotlight will shine on the relationship, and the Philippine eviction of American military, and Philippine “first out” of Iraq, will be brought glaringly into that light by critics.

I find it interesting that America’s pivot to Asia presents an opportunity for the Philippines to prove capability. American skepticism has always been, since 1898, can the Philippines get its self-governing act together? 

I’d opine that the proof is to be found in deeds, not politics.
16 Responses to “Blueprint for Philippine Defense?”
  1. Edgar Lores says:

    1. Very hard look at and assessment of the US-Philippine military alliance.2. There are so many questions.2.1 How does the US-Korean plan differ from the US-Taiwan plan? Or for that matter the US-Australian plan? 2.2 Shouldn’t the Department of National Defense (DND) have a position paper already? And the Senate? And if not, what does that say about competence?2.3 What is the primary focus of the joint plan? Is it the internal Muslim south and terrorism? Or the external China sea dispute?3. The Sabah misadventure seems to have thrown a spanner in the works of the Bangsamoro framework agreement. Was that one of the calculations of the backers of the misadventure? “Of course, we won’t get Sabah back, but at least we will take some of the shine off PNoy.” 4. I like the benevolent South Korean stance of aid and dialogue with the North. It is a position of compassionate strength. 4.1 Nations seem to possess and exhibit the pathology (North Korea, Syria) of human beings and their apithology (Philippines) as well. This is a new word for me, the study of “wellness”.4.2 As in: an analysis of my apithology shows that it partially rests in listening to myself, listening to music, reading books, studying the goings-on of mankind, and getting rid of toxin through frank and disarming comments in social media.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Hey Joe,The President just declared Biliran a Tourism Development Area…so much for peace and tranquility of your rural-life

  3. The island has a number of attractions, beaches, waterfalls, views. Access is not easy for what is here. No airports. No large-scale hotels. Some nice little places tucked into the corners. The largest town, Naval, is getting congested now, mainly with tricycles. No corruption or shootings or major clan warfare. The population is small, so the poverty is not abject or intimidating. Lots of foreigners have set up camp here, so there is a base of income. I suppose a little investment in the beaches, waterfall access, mountain trails, and some small hotels, and it would pick up. But it won't be overnight. I'm cool. My "estate" is bought and titled and walled off. The rocking chair is comfortable. The wifi has good connectivity most days.

  4. Yes, good questions. I wonder what the "tenor" of work and dialogue is in the arena of defense/foreign affairs. Is it Filipino style, loose and "no worries", or Western style, crisp and rigorous? Purposeful. Punching up scenarios and responses. I dunno.I think the big issue is Chinese aggression, moreso than the firefights in the southwest, internally. Both must be attended to, but China is what I was mainly thinking when writing. If the UN rules in Philippine favor (200 nm economic zone) but China refuses to leave, what happens?Nations do possess personality, don't they.And it is tonic to cut loose with a crisp, candid comment amidst all the social blather, I agree.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I would say that mutual confidence is the starting point. Point 1 "The new defense plan calls for military aid by the U.S. armed forces when required by the South Korean forces." That is basically what the Phil-US mutual defense treaty is all about. Question re point 1 is the political processes of the US. Will action require congressional authorization? Will it need a formal declaration of war from Congress, would a Gulf of Tonkin Resolution suffice, or can the US president make a unilateral decision on the matter? Point 2 – "Specific agreements define what levels of U.S. force will be deployed in certain circumstances" – is the operative part and it can only arrived at if mutual confidence already exists."Despite rising inter-Korean military tensions, South Korea's presidential office says it will offer humanitarian aid to North Korea and expand dialogue.. if Pyongyang doesn't carry out further provocations and shows efforts to stick to its international obligations."That's what I like about Asian martial arts. An open palm can also function as a fist. – mb

  6. Ella Tovara says:

    Wow! very interesting article, you dissected the problems of defense in the Philippines! Her military's alliances, politics, competences, resolve, discipline and capability. Unfortunately discipline, resolve and competence are dependent upon money and politics. In the Philippines, it is so unfortunate that the saying: It is more of whom you know that what you know that still prevails even in selection or promotion of generals. I just hope that many will read your article, most especially those in the military and those in politics and will touch their minds and their hearts.

  7. J says:

    I think the Philippines has a lot of really competent officers. I just don't know if any of them get promoted to rank of general. As you said, most of the time being someone's classmate is the biggest factor.

  8. Very good points. The President has considerable latitude as Commander in Chief to put U.S. forces into action, as we saw in Libya. Congressmen get upset if they are not involved, and I would suspect the Korea Agreement has been circulated to top defense committee chiefs of both parties. But I don't know and the question is very important.Love those B-2's dropping sandbags in South Korea to make a point. Have you ever seen a stealth machine flying? Creepy, ominous. They flew a pair of stealth fighters over the Rose Parade I was at a few years ago in Pasadena. They don's seem human. All fist, no palm.

  9. Glad you appreciated it, Ella. I know Ms. Arroyo promoted her favorites, and I simply don't know the experience or qualifications of the top people. It would be an interesting project to find out. It is something that an investigative, rather than sensationalist, press mightbe doing. "Who are our military leaders, and how good are they?" This is one of those things the Philippines cannot hide from. If the military staff are capable, American officers will know this from the joint training. Or if not, they will know that, too. If there is a problem, it can't be fixed politically or with publicity. It has to be fixed by fixing it.

  10. You know, that's the nagging feeling I have, that there is a layer of political appointees on top of some capable people. I don't know, though, and can only raise the point that weakness would be a vulnerability for national security if it were to make a defense agreement difficult to arrive at. It's one of those areas where the Philippines needs to "own the matter".

  11. Jetlag807 says:

    In answer to your question "Will it need a formal declaration of war from Congress, would a Gulf of Tonkin Resolution suffice, or can the US president make a unilateral decision on the matter? "…No. Since the Armistice Agreement was signed in 1954, North Korea has been and continues to be in a technical State of War with South Korea. Additionally, the United Nations (and subsequently NATO's) support for the original action against North Korea remains in effect albeit suspended until a peace treaty is signed. As for the United States; we are still in a technical State of War with North Korea and have been since 1950. Further action by the US Congress is not required since future action is considered to be a continuation of the war so a new Declaration of War would be redundant.The new agreement between SOKOR and the US seems to lower the bar on what actions (by NOKOR) would necessitate an immediate response. So, the days of NOKOR shelling positions inside of SOKOR, like what happened a few years back, are over. Now, ANY such actions will be met with direct and devastating counter-attacks.As to the "trust factor"; I can tell you from personal experience that the South Korean Military is highly capable and its personnel are among the most fierce warriors I've had the pleasure to meet.

  12. Fascinating elaboration. I know in Viet Nam the Korean troops there were highly respected in the same terms you used: "most fierce warriors". The question posed by MB remains open. The US has a defense treaty with the Philippines that presumably provides a legal foundation for the US to enter into combat if the Philippines is overtly attacked. Without a congressional declaration of war, presumably. This is an area we know little about, but top Philippine defense officials should know very clearly: how ready is the U.S. to fight? So that hard question needs to be asked both directions. And answered.

  13. Jetlag807 says:

    Legally, insofar as US Law is concerned, these issues would be covered by 3 documents; 1) The US/RP Mutual Defense Treaty, 2) the War Powers Act of 1941 and 3) the War Powers Resolution of 1973… Number 1 covers the circumstances by which the United States would commit forces in support of the Philippines. Number 2 provides the legal framework by which POTUS could (or would) commit said forces and Number 3 lays out the (possible) limitations of Number 2 insofar as timeline and Congressional notification are concerned. However, a few US Presidents have opted to ignore Number 3 (the War Powers Resolution) from time to time. So, in my opinion, the US would indeed commit forces if recognized & undisputed Philippine territory was attacked. I don't believe the Scarborough and Spratly islands are included in this scenario. Worst case scenario; China attacks or invades a major metropolitan area within the Philippines. Result; POTUS would immediately commit US forces in line with the Mutual Defense Treaty.The "confidence" factor is where things become "tricky" to most civilians but it is crystal clear military commanders on both sides. Lets look at Iraq for a moment. Iraq is now an ally of the United States and as such, enjoys military assistance from same to this day. Although this assistance is limited to training from JSOC, the Iraqi Military are being provided with the knowledge and "tools" needed to defend their country from foreign and domestic enemies. Do we have "confidence" that, if attacked, the Iraqi Military would be ready, willing and able to respond to such action? NO. Do we have "confidence" that the Iraqi Military can, on its own, effectively end the insurgency? NO… Developing Countries, and the Philippines is no different, tend to suffer from the same roadblocks which stifle Military growth and efficiency. TOP on the list is CORRUPTION. So; does the US have "confidence" in the AFP? Not really. We have "confidence" that, if worse comes to worse, the Philippine Government & AFP will allow the US to take the lead and "do the deed". We have NO confidence that, given the worse case scenario, the AFP could effectively take charge. However, when the smoke clears, the US would gladly allow the AFP to take as much credit for success as is necessary.

  14. You are officially designated the Society of Honor security analyst, ala Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan at the outset of his sterling career. Crist synthesis. Clear findings. I hope they are read by POTPHIL or his defense staff. I can see that the "take the lead, do the deed" component could be bracketed in Philippine approvals at the beginning and the end that would retain Philippine ownership but allow US military muscle to operate unfettered, in full force.

  15. Rein Luna says:

    Corruption makes it hard to distinguish the bright ones from the rotten. Even if we have capable minds, it would be quite the struggle dragging our guests inside a dumpster/house hybrid. So we gotta get our act together, clean house.FOI Bill 'nuff said. Heads need to roll.

  16. Yes, FOI is the distinction between a government that only wants to go half-way in operating "for the people" and one that wants the people to have a real say in governance. President Aquino can talk all he wants about "good governance", but until information about how that government operates is available for inquiry, he is not walking the talk. I'm confident we will get FOI within the next 3 years, or the Aquino legacy will be "half baked".

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