Defense III: "Who’s the Enemy Around Here, Anyway?"

Jack Ryan is famed author Tom Clancy’s CIA strategist who, via a series of spy and military adventures, becomes President of the United States. We herein take our best shot at emulating the young Ryan’s superior ability to digest chaos and mystery and come up with order.

This installment of our Philippine Defense dialogue will take its lead from the prior two articles. In the first, we presented a critique of the Department of National Defense layout and goals, and in the second we looked at the component AFP forces of Army, Navy and Air Force. We still have on the agenda dealing with: (a) budget, (b) intelligence security groups, and (c ) relationship with the United States. We’ll deal with the US as a part of this discussion.


We’ve learned that the AFP is administratively top heavy and grossly underfunded to accomplish the modernization goal set forward by Congress in 1995. The Navy and Air Force have been substantially neglected. The Army maintains a force of about 200,000 soldiers, each with an M-16 apparently, but the rest of the equipment is old.

We can piece together the following basic plan for the Armed Forces of the Philippines from our various readings (our analysis and words, not those of the AFP):

  1. Modernize the equipment of all branches, but particularly the dilapidated Navy and Air Force, with highest priority on the Navy due to increasingly threatening incursions into Philippine Territory by Chinese ships.
  2. Continue to fight rebel infestations in the jungles primarily in Mindanao (Muslim extremists and NPR extortionist gangsters).
  3. Support domestic needs for police assistance, COMELEC inspections and disaster response.

Our prior discussion argued for a smaller Army, less administratively burdened, more focused on warfare than police work, and better equipped. The Navy in particular needs beefing up.

The rationale for scaling down the size and scaling up the capability of the Army comes from a simple business management principle that “secondary effort, allowed to flourish, will undermine primary effort.”

That is what has happened to the Philippine military. Domestic needs have taken precedent over battle readiness. Peter was robbed to pay Paul, or the Navy and Air Force were ignored to pay for a nationwide domestic Army presence. Administrative “make work” (parades and medals and lolling about at checkpoints) took the place of preparation for conventional warfare. The military is economically broke, strewn all across the nation, poorly armed, and perhaps living complacently at the top.

So Jack Ryan . . . er, JoeAm has proposed some radically different ideas to get focused back on fighting capability. Hey, it may be a pipedream, but the dream is better than reality as it stands now:

  1. Merge the three forces – Army, Navy, Air Force – into one fully coordinated combat unit rather than three units managed separately and patched together on a needs basis. This is not the United States with millions of soldiers. There are only about 20,000 Navy and 20,000 Air Force personnel. With separate administrative functions and a domestic policing agenda riding high, there’s not much manpower available for fighting. So consolidate the back office and support functions. Integrate the fighting teams.
  2. Pursue a “missile and drone” strategy as the driver of weapons procurement. Stop trying to arm with WWII weapons. Put platforms in place to deliver these weapons: ships, planes and commando teams.
  3. Separate domestic needs (supporting COMELEC, local police assistance and disaster relief) into a Federal Police separate from the Army, with the Army assigned the job of fighting via a smaller, well-trained, well-armed component.

It is interesting that the Army has such a widespread presence on all major Philippine islands. And almost all Army divisions cite the mission of defeating domestic rebels. Yet rebel infestations are fairly limited in numbers – small bands – and are primarily on Mindanao. It is almost as if the Army’s national distribution of troops were for a different purpose, a lingering vestige of days when coups were just around the corner and the troops were needed either to suppress them, or to help carry them out.

One would certainly be inclined to ask if the domestic enemy is really so widespread within the Philippines? Or the likelihood of coups and civil unrest so strong that a widely dispersed Army is needed?

Can you maintain a huge, widespread domestic presence and arm up to face China, or other hard threats? Not with a budget that must also serve schools and building an economic infrastructure.

Other sharp questions were raised by readers during the discussions on the two prior blogs: Who, really, is the enemy, and what are we trying to accomplish? It was observed that the island structure of the archipelago mandates a much stronger Navy, and is in some respects easy to defend.

We will in this blog reflect on who is the enemy. And we will add to that how the Philippines might relate to the U.S.


We put existing or POTENTIAL enemies into five categories:

  • Semi-Organized Domestic Extortionists: (probability of combat 100%; scope 25% of available fighting forces)
  • Muslim extremists: (probability of combat 100%; scope 15% of available fighting forces)
  • China: (probability of combat 10%; scope 100% of available fighting forces)
  • Other Asian state:  (probability of combat 1%; scope 100% of available fighting forces )
  • Civil unrest within the Philippines: (probability of combat 5%; scope 100% of available fighting forces)

Lets put some meat on these bones, recognizing that this exercise is wholly speculative and has no endorsement or inputs from government officials.

Semi-Organized Domestic Extortionists

These “rebel” forces eat up a lot of the Army’s manpower and budget. Comprehensive peace is hard to reach because rebel demands are extreme and the organization is not unified. The persistent success of these gangs at committing murder, kidnap-for-ransom, and intimidation in support of fund-raising is testimony to the defensibility of the islands. They disappear into the jungles or merge with residents and come out to fight at any time, at any place.

Winning the war will likely come in some form other than combat as combat can only kill or capture small pods of rebel troops:

  • Peace agreement making national concessions along the lines of the Mindanao agreement.
  • Broader economic revitalization reducing poverty and discontent.
  • Local residents turning against the gangs.

This is likely to be a long, protracted struggle. If JoeAm were writing a fictional book about the matter he’d probably be inclined to structure things as follows:

  • Create Federal Police separate from the Army and make this a police action (also assign disaster response and COMELEC checkpoints to the Police).
  • “Win the hearts and minds of residents” through economic improvements targeting specific regions (Northeast Mindanao) and community friendly police work (health clinics, for example).
  • Continued efforts to strike a formalized written agreement that does not impose unreasonable demands on the State.
  • Make military assistance available on call when large-scale actions are identified (“bring in the drones”).

Muslim Extremists

Muslim extremists are attack oriented, keying in on soldiers and also extortion targets (kidnappings; beheadings for intimidation). The extremists are larger, are well-armed groups with international ties. It is the international funding and arming that separates this group from domestic gangsters and calls for military, rather than police, intervention. The US is already engaged in support of the Philippine Army with (a rumored) several hundred advisors in place on islands to the southwest. It is believed that drones are deployed for eye-in-the-sky monitoring, but not for attack (one missile attack is rumored to have been undertaken).

Winning the war will likely come in some way other than combat:

  • Peace agreement carried all the way through, past Constitutional objections  (process underway).
  • Broader economic revitalization reducing poverty and discontent (underway).
  • Local residents turn against the extremists in favor of peace and economic development (underway).


This is the toughest one because the threat is pronounced yet may never materialize. The defense agreement with the United States is the backstop against a major event. It is in the best interest of the Philippines to demonstrate an increasing ability to take on her own defense in the event of limited conflict. The direction of the Philippines under this scenario would be to assume more and more of the fighting burden and to relegate the US as far into the background as possible.

What may happen regarding China? In our fictional novel, ala Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, we might concoct some scenarios and probabilities as a starting point for refinement based on better data:

  1. The Philippines will win UN arbitration; China will depart from the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone (“EEZ”) peacefully (likelihood 15%).
  2. The Philippines will win UN arbitration; China will  not depart from the EEZ (likelihood 85%).
  3. China will land troops on unoccupied islands within the EEZ and start building residential or commercial structures (85%)
  4. China will evict Philippine residents and troops from occupied islands within the EEZ and take control of new territory forcibly (5%).
  5. China will block Philippine ships from sailing in parts of the West Philippine Sea (50%).
  6. China will fire warning shots on Philippine ships to block them from sailing (20%).
  7. China will fire on a Philippine ship or ships causing Filipino casualties (5%).
  8. China will occupy the Philippine mainland subsequent to escalation of localized fighting (1%).
  9. China will wage cyber-war against the Philippines (95% for harassment, 5% for destructive acts such as bringing down power, communications and other infrastructure).

This is so much pie in the sky speculation. But at least it starts and organizes a thinking process.

Other Asian State

If one looks around the cusp of Asia, in which the Philippines is centrally located, it is difficult to imagine armed conflict breaking out between the Philippines and any state other than Malaysia. Relations are generally good and there are few direct conflicts. Malaysia is on the chalk board due to frictions caused by Sultan Kiram’s attempt to physically occupy land in Sabah that he claims. If such frictions were to grow more serious perhaps there is a scenario that would see the Philippines and Malaysia in direct military conflict. It would likely be a short-term violent flare-up, more pushing and shoving than territorial conquest. Contingency plans should include this possibility.

Massive civil unrest within the Philippines

It was only a short time ago that President Arroyo declared martial law in Mindanao. It was limited in scope and time. On one hand, it is difficult to imagine widespread unrest in today’s civil Philippines. But also, given the public’s penchant to vote for dynastic names rather than platform, it is easy to imagine another authoritarian president seeking permanent rule, and using the military as his arm of discipline to quell protest. Indeed, it might be advisable to ensure against such a scenario by pulling troops back from widespread distribution in the Philippines to minimize military use during civil unrest. The military should be staging for the kinds of conventional warfare incidents that are threatening today.


Many Filipinos are understandably suspicious of any relationship with the United States. Feelings range from outright condemnation of any US military presence to pragmatic acceptance given China’s incursions into Philippine territory.

Sovereignty. Does an alliance with the US impose on Philippine sovereignty? I suppose it does in the sense that the Philippines must consider that the US traditionally demands autonomy over her military. The degree of latitude given to the Philippines to “direct” US troops would be limited. But presumably the US would respect Philippine guidance pertaining to activities in the Philippines.

The US has struck a defense agreement with Korea that puts Korea in the driver’s seat to control deployment of US military assets. It is a model the Philippine might aspire toward.

One can imagine this dialogue taking place:

  • American General: “We recommend flying stealth bombers over South Korea from the US to send a message to North Korea that they are within striking distance.”
  • Korean General: “Wait one.” (“That’s Army for give me a little time to converse with someone.”) “Roger that. We agree. When can we expect them to arrive?”

The American General would not say “We’re going to fly our bombers into Korea.” Does one lose autonomy if one retains approval authority? I think not if that approval authority is specific and clear.

Or this conversation:

  • Korean General: “We recommend flying stealth bombers over South Korea from the US to send a message to North Korea that they are within striking distance.”
  • American General: “Wait one. . . . Negative on that, General. Our chief says that’s too provocative for us.”

Does one lose autonomy if one respects the partner’s stance? Hmmmm. Technically, yes.

Does that mean one ought not have alliances?

No. It means one must be willing to embark on the give and take of decision making with a partner who may have different viewpoints or  interests, and to remain respectful of the alliance and its overall value. In other words, don’t be a 100 percenter and demand that the alliance march to the Philippine beat alone.

Perhaps it would benefit the Philippines to look within and recognize that its own acts can determine what the relationship with the United States is likely to be. If the Philippines demonstrates a good grasp of strategies, tactics and execution during training drills, and becomes and equal partner rather than student, then the US is more likely to grant the Philippines greater leeway to request and receive assistance in the form of weaponry or technology or command control.

Autonomy demands that the Philippines display “world class” fighting attitude and skill, and the ability to work in forthright partnership with allies.

Forthright partnership was not on display when the American minesweeper ran aground in Tubattaha Reef. The Philippine military did not step in to break the contentious relationship that flared up between Park Rangers and officers aboard the US ship. Nor did the Americans go directly to some standing military liaison contact in the Philippines to get relief. It was an acrimonious incident, not one of partnership. Not one of good, quick communication and resolution.

You can’t have that kind of separation, and failure to communicate and execute, in battle.

Right now the two allies are dancing a very awkward dance.

The Philippines can take control of the relationship if her military leaders demonstrate the aptitude necessary to command respect from American military brass. A widespread domestic policing force and woeful sea and air power are unlikely to command respect among those looking for fighting capability.  If blogger JoeAm can see what is going on with regard to the Philippine military, the US has a crystal-clear insight into the lack of combat readiness that characterizes the overall capability of Philippine forces.

The Philippines and the US do collaborate on strategic matters, but these appear to be in the form of structured conferences. Formal exchanges and briefings that confirm mutual interest. But not down and dirty work together to hammer out scenarios, contingencies and responses. The exception is the fighting of terrorism in the Southwest. It is difficult to know how that is going and what kind of mutual engagement and respect exists there.

US/Philippine training exercises are held regularly to teach troops how to converse with one another and act as a team on shore invasions or disaster recovery. But how ready is the PARTNERSHIP to address the China scenarios outlined above. Somewhere between formal top line discussions of mutual interest and in-the-field practice there is an arena where battles will be won or lost: strategies and tactical scenarios  . . . and responses. Including the deceptions and feints that are crucial to good outcomes. And good information, from drones or spies or reconnaissance missions.

These fighting plans should drive equipment-purchase priorities. Right now, it would appear that equipment needs are being driven by domestic leaders tallying up hardware they’d like, without connection to battle plans.

The Philippines can drive the establishment of a scenario-driven relationship and retain considerable authority over the how the fighting alliance will work. Authority over how the alliance works does not mean cock-fight posturing. It means taking the initiative to be aggressive about thinking things through, and inviting the US into the process.

Scenarios and responses first. Understanding what the US can bring to the table second. Philippine equipment and training plans flow from that.

10 Responses to “Defense III: "Who’s the Enemy Around Here, Anyway?"”
  1. Edgar Lores says:

    1. This is a well-rounded piece. The threat levels and scenarios are particularly instructive and edifying – and scary.2. Some observations:2.1 With the automation of voting, I wonder if COMELEC duty for the army is still necessary. I believe the duty was mostly to protect the sanctity and security of the ballot boxes.2.2. The widespread dispersal of the army is costly but I wonder if it is necessary, partly to combat the problem of provincial warlordism. (Note: Warlordism is partly an offshoot of the NPA and Muslim insurgencies but mostly an effort, I guess, to maintain local political domination.) Your point on the possibility of the use of the army on coups is double-edged: the army may be used to quell civil unrest, if it (the army) is under unified control; or to dissuade coup attempts, if it is not under unified control. The latter may underpin the failure of the post-Marcos coup attempts.2.3. Would it be cheaper to offer the carrot of amnesty to the NPA rebels to bring them back into the fold? The government would have to guarantee gainful employment or gift land ownership to prevent recidivism.2.4. The Muslim insurgency should be addressed by the Bangsamoro framework agreement, although there are two main forces, the ascendant MNLF versus the MILF. Can these opposing forces be reconciled as part of the agreement, perhaps by subdivision of the autonomous region? As I have suggested elsewhere, a pre-condition of the grant of autonomy would be the release of all hostages. Both the MNLF and MILF must show they have actual control of their regions, that they are not the hostage takers or in cahoots with them. (The problem of kidnapping is widespread, and there must be a campaign against it. Solutions like the non-payment of ransoms, death penalty, instructions in ethics and others should be considered. It is a heinous crime particularly because it involves innocent victims.)2.5 China. Cannot add anything here. This is the scary part.2.6 Malaysia is a thorn in Manila’s side with its underground support of Muslim insurgency, its lack of respect for request for extradition of a criminal, and its air of superiority. The Philippines is a thorn in Kuala Lumpur’s side because of Filipino Muslim kidnappings of tourists, unofficial and undocumented OFW incursion into its borders, and the possible tit-for-tat non-extradition of Sultan Kiram. On the plus side, Malaysia has brokered the Bangsamoro framework agreement. The assessment of continuing friction is realistic. 2.7 On US relations. Can't add anything here except push for a comprehensive agreement that includes clear definition of roles, combat scenarios and the provision for incidental damages such as on the Tubbataha reef.

  2. 2.1,2,3 I think this blog will spin off several more, one being more elaboration on domestic policing needs. NPA, polls, dynasties, coups, disasters. The weight of army attention has been on domestic issues. How to gear up conventional forces against that apparently overwhelming need is the critical question.2.6 Malaysia is a little unpredictable. A very arrogant nation I'm thinking.

  3. JosephIvo says:

    Is the primary effort preventing a crisis, not reacting to a crisis? Isn’t only focusing on battle sucking away energy to prevent? Intelligence (national and international), creating goodwill, nation building, international (Asean?) integration (as in the NATO)… should have priority. Isn’t the question: “What is the minimum secondary requirement (battle) to keep the first operational( = believable)?”On ChinaSome quick Goggling gave a list o more than 100 territorial conflicts, hope they will not all be settled militarily. On international conflict settlement most is on commercial conflicts, but also a lot on the history of territorial conflict resolution. Arbitration is the preferred way to go, apart from the current UN arbitration other settings for arbitration might be available. If arbitration fails, international courts are still an option. Currently the Philippines looks not only for this arbitration but is also looking for a joint ASEAN initiative I guess. Also the US has 20 to 30 issues a year with many nation over the 200 miles economic zone, international initiatives clarifying these laws might be expected. Tend to disagree with the 15% / 85% assessment. What about peaceful solution: 15% after first round of negotiations, 30% second round of negotiations, 60% after third, 99% final chance on a negotiated solution (favorable or unfavorable).

  4. Good point. I think most armaments, including nuclear, are aimed at preventing war. That's why a strong alliance with the US is very protective for the Philippines anc can save a lot of money. And maybe that's why Army troops are spread about the Philippines, to prevent unrest, not fight it. I dunno.As for negotiation, to be successful, both parties have to want the same objective. The problem with regard to the West Philippine Sea is that China appears unwilling to give any concessions, because one concession means a lot of them. China's posture of wanting to negotiate one-on-one is just blowing smoke to prevent other nations from joining forces. Where do you see legitimate one-on-one negotiatings taking place? Nowhere. Just bluster and dominance from China. The Philippines should indeed proceed with all legal remedies, but I'm pessimistic.

  5."It is bad enough that the Chinese have illegally entered our seas, navigated without boat papers and crashed recklessly into a national marine park and World Heritage Site," said WWF-Philippines chief executive officer Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan. "It is simply deplorable that they appear to be posing as fishermen to trade in illegal wildlife."JESUS MARY MOTHER OF GOD HELP THE PHILIPPINES. What goot is recently acquired harm-less, armed-less U.S. Frigates and dozen of helicopters when PMAyers cannot even detect a Chinese Armada entered the Philippine seas illegally? They did not even know about the US minesweeper ran aground until the Captain called the U.S. Embassy to call Triple A for a tow.There were dozens of coup-de-t'ats led by PMAyers during the time of Aling Cory and few on Erap's regime ALL FAILURES. The coup-de-t'aters ran for public office and mysteriously THEY WERE ELECTED!!! If only they were exterminated before firing squadron for shaming their alma mater Philippine Military Academy for not perfecting coup-de-t'ats.I thought that Filipinos are not made for running or electing a government they are also not made for running a rag-tag of procurement and military strategies.I take back what I said in previous blog, "The best defense is education". Filipinos may be educated but they do not know what to do what they have learned.

  6. Yes, and the Plunterer in Chief may soon be Mayor of Manila, and the shoe lady is posturing her son for a run for President. I tell you, it's enough to drive a guy bonkers."An American, a Chinese and a Filipino went into a bar. The American announced loudly, 'I am here to help you with your sex life' and tossed a packet of Viagra onto the bar. The Chinese announced even louder 'The Chinese way is better, more natural' and he threw a dead anteater onto the bar. The Filipino smiled, walked up to the bar, and announced in a very loud voice . . ."(. . . to be continued.)

  7. Anonymous says:

    This is a little bit out of topic, but is it true that China will surpass America in a few decades? Its a bit alarming that even if America is currently the strongest, the Chinese intrude in our territory. What more if they are the most powerful country in the world? I really think that China would just ignore UN arbitration.Also, can we just let you Americans dig the oil in Spratlys? As far as I know, the government is bidding out some blocs near Palawan. Even if we can dig for oil ourselves, my country can't defend it from China. It will benefit both countries, since you get the oil (at the same time prevent China from getting it) and you pay taxes, you protect our territories, and marine resources. WIN-WIN. -JM

  8. Very interesting questions. China will surpass the US in terms of economic productivity by virtue of having more people and size. That is different than surpassing the US in terms of innovation or good values. I'm surprised how many Filipinos view the coming economic "second place" as a failing of the United States. It's nothing of the sort. A big bucket holds more water is all. It is more drinkable if the water is not muddy.I don't know American oil company views about the Spratleys. Some of the leases I believe are outside the Philippine 200 nautical mile economic exclusion zone (EEZ), so I don't know how the Philippines defends them. I think if the UN supports the EEZ, the Philippines ought to pursue the leases within the EEZ once the US confirms that an attack on the properties would be an attack on the Philippines, automatically bringing US protections into the picture. But, yes, an American drilling company would very likely hold China at bay. Good idea.

  9. Boris says:

    I've already mentioned my disagreement with the merging and "missile and drone" procurement recommendations in a previous comment, so I won't raise them again. I do like the idea of a Federal Police to handle internal matters. J has often been the unfortunate recipient of my tirades against the current law enforcement situation in the Philippines. I believe in breaking up the Philippine National Police into the Philippine Constabulary and local police departments. The PC should be revived and serve as a gendarmerie and national police force that would deal with insurrections, banditry, civil disturbances, and provide a check to the local police departments. But the PC must not be under the AFP like before, it should be a civilian paramilitary organization under the DILG.I also think we should reduce the number of generals in the AFP. It's ridiculous to have a hundred generals for a force with the firepower equivalent to a State Police organization. Perhaps bump everyone one grade down so we don't have to spend so much on benefits and perks of generals. We can increase their number again only with a commensurate increase in firepower and mobility.

  10. I like your ideas, to break up the PNP and to reduce the number of generals. The lack of strong local law enforcement leaves the door open for vigilante style justice. And patrolling of the national highways today is non-existent, so without enforcement, there really are no traffic laws. The Army gives out general's titles the way banks give out VP titles. Low standards, little responsibility, mainly good for public "presentation" and people's egos.

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