Philippines 'not a pawn' in Asia-Pacific geopolitical tensions: defense chief

Raffy Cabristante, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 07 2023 02:50 PM | Updated as of Jun 07 2023 03:14 PM

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MANILA — Defense Secretary Gilbert "Gibo" Teodoro on Wednesday said initiatives to bolster the Philippines' defense capabilities were only for its own interest, saying the country was "not a pawn" in geopolitical tensions in the Asia-Pacific region.

Teodoro, who is returning to the defense portfolio after more than a decade, said the Philippines' partnerships with other countries to build up its own defenses should not be associated with persisting tensions in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait.

"The Philippines is for the Philippines and we leverage that. And I think other countries want to help us because they view it as... standing strong with democratic values," he told ANC.

"The Philippines is a value proposition by its own self, and not a pawn of anybody else in the geopolitical battle that's raging within our area now," he added.

Last April, China criticized the Philippines' Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the United States, with its foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning alleging that the US was maintaining a "zero-sum mentality and continues to strengthen its military deployment in the region."

This, after the Philippines allowed the US to access 4 more of its military bases, with two of them just a few hundred kilometers off Taiwan, the self-governed democratic island that China claims as its own.

Reacting to China's remarks, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. defended the country's defense deal with the US, saying that the newly identified EDCA sites would not be used for offensive attacks and would only be used "to help the Philippines when it needs help."

This, Teodoro said, was among the "admonitions" given to him by Marcos upon his reappointment to the defense department.

"There are admonitions to us to make very sure... that these agreements and cooperations are purely for defensive purposes and we must take that admonition very seriously so that it does not result in any misinterpretation whatsoever," he said.

"Philippine interests are for the Filipinos," he added.


Meanwhile, Teodoro also said that he has marching orders from President Marcos to prioritize pension reforms for military and uniformed personnel (MUP).

Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno earlier called for a separate retirement and pension fund for MUP, as he described the current military pension system as a "big drain to the national budget."

Citing his experience from the financial sector, Teodoro said that he would review the pension system.

"I can review it and see, because we want self-sustained pension system but it needs a couple of years to load it up in order for that to be self-sustained," he said.

"I want to ensure that prudential standards are put in the governance of whatever fund is made and the persons running the fund must, as much as possible, conform to the fit and proper rule that is imposed on bankers by the [Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas]."

Teodoro added he would also continue the defense department's existing programs, particularly the Marcos administration's push to modernize the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).