MANILA - With its guest of honor appearing virtually on livestream from Davao, the Armed Forces of the Philippines celebrated its 85th founding anniversary without its usual fanfare - and with hardly even a soldier in sight.
Commanders and the top brass of the AFP, from the AFP chief to the chiefs of the Army, Navy, and Air Force, sat at the grandstand of Camp Aguinaldo facing a field where traditionally there would have been representatives of troops from various units marching in front of them, and a display of assets the military boasts of.
On Monday night, however, there were only soldiers carrying the colors - or flags - of these units, as a precaution against COVID-19.
Even President Rodrigo Duterte only made an appearance virtually, thanking the AFP for its role in the government’s COVID-19 response and during natural disasters. He expressed support for the AFP modernization program, which across several presidential administrations has allowed the AFP to gradually avail of the more modern military equipment that could position them closer to the capabilities of its regional counterparts.
AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Gilbert Gapay mentioned the acquisitions that he said inched the Philippines closer towards achieving a minimum credible defense posture, such as the Philippines’ first brand new frigate, the BRP Jose Rizal, the FA50 lead-in jets, the Super Tucano light attack aircraft, and the Black Hawk helicopters, with more acquisitions coming in 2021.
“I am proud to report that with this equipment, we have once again established effective presence in the West Philippine Sea in assertion of our sovereignty," he said.
Just last week, the AFP held its main anniversary event at sea with a fleet review of the Philippine Navy's latest assets coupled with the Philippine Air Force's newest acquisitions. It was the first time for the Army-dominated military to choose to celebrate its founding in Navy-centric fashion, one that highlights the importance of territorial defense rather than internal security issues which remain the AFP's top priority at the moment.
The AFP is still primarily focused on the elimination of the New People’s Army, in attempts to fulfill Duterte’s goal of ending communist insurgency before the end of his term. The AFP has always targeted the decimation of the NPA before the end of other presidential administrations, but the Philippine military’s campaign now is seen to be far more aggressive both in the areas of combat and propaganda.
Over the past couple of years, various AFP units have reported the dismantling of several guerrilla fronts and reportedly facilitated the surrender of numerous personalities introduced by the military as members of the NPA. There has also been an aggressive push in naming and shaming non-combatant groups and persons that the military believes has connections with what they call “communist terrorists.”