MANILA— Sen. Risa Hontiveros on Tuesday said she was skeptical of claims that the situation in the West Philippine Sea is “stable and manageable” as reported by the Department of National Defense (DND).
During the agency’s budget hearing, Hontiveros stressed that “external” threats to the Philippines should not be downplayed amid China’s repeated incursions in the disputed waters where the country has laid claims.
Because of these present threats by a “rising global superpower,” the country also “cannot afford” a shortage of funding for AFP’s modernization program.
“[This is] during a time when a regional and rising global superpower is unabashedly taking resources that are 100 percent ours. Hindi biro ang banta ng Tsina sa ating seguridad. Dapat huwag maliitin ng DND ang panganib na dala nito sa bansa at sa mga Pilipino,” Hontiveros said.
(China is a threat to the country’s security and it is not a joke. DND should not downplay China’s threats to our country and the Filipino people.)
China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, including the Philippines' exclusive economic zone, which it calls the West Philippine Sea.
Hontiveros urged the department to reevaluate its national security threat assessment.
“I highly doubt that the situation in the West Philippine Sea is ‘manageable.’ Manageable ba na wala nang matitirang isda at likas-yaman sa ating karagatan? Manageable ba na wala nang magiging hanapbuhay ang mga mangingisdang Pilipino? Manageable ba na unti-unting nawawala ang ating soberanya?” she said.
(Is it manageable that all of our natural resources in the disputed waters would be gone? That the livelihoods of our fisher folk have been already taken away? Is it manageable that our sovereignty is continually stepped on?)
The senator emphasized that the primary mandate of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) — which includes the Army, the Air Force, and the Philippine Navy — is to protect the Philippines from “external” threats.
“Internal” threats, the senator said, should be largely addressed and managed by the Philippine National Police (PNP) under the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG).
“Kung may isyu man ng insurgency, dapat ang i-capacitate [ay] ang PNP, at hindi dapat nawawala sa focus ang AFP na unang protektahan ang ating mga teritoryo lalo na sa gitna ng patuloy na panghihimasok ng Tsina,” Hontiveros said.
(If there’s an issue on insurgency, the PNP should be tapped. AFP’s focus should be on protecting our territories amid China’s continuing aggression.)
“Our lifelong fight for economic and national security will be all for naught if we don’t take China’s adventurism in our territories seriously. Mas malaki silang kalaban, kaya dapat mas malaki din ang atensiyon na nilalaan sa kanila,” she added.
(China is our biggest enemy, that’s why we should give a lot of our attention to what they are doing.)
She then asked the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) on why it only appropriated P5 billion out of the P13.2 billion that the AFP modernization program is entitled to receive from the proceeds of the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA).
“Where’s the remaining P8.2 billion? Why is DBM not appropriating the full P13.2 billion to AFP already? Baka kaya ginagawa na lang prayoridad ang internal threat kasi kulang sa pondo para tunay na tugunan ang external threats,” she said.
(Perhaps that's why internal threat was prioritized because there are no more funds to respond to external threats.)
Gapay in September told the Commission on Appointments that the BCDA has yet to remit some P13.2 billion from the sale of several military assets.
Under the Bases Conversion and Development Act, the BCDA is required to remit 35 percent of proceeds from the sale of former military camps to help fund the military's modernization program.
Hontiveros, meanwhile, reiterated Senate Resolution No. 520, a resolution she filed also in September that seeks a Senate-led “comprehensive audit” of the AFP’s use of its shares in BCDA's earnings over the years.
— Sherrie Ann Torres, ABS-CBN News