Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has approved a military budget increase which will see a 9% rise in funding for the armed forces over a five year period. Duterte will spend a total of $15 billion on new military hardware, which compares favourably to his predecessor Noynoy Aquino who spent only $1.9 billion on military hardware during that same period.
The irony of this reality becomes increasingly clear when one realises that President Duterte has renounced any form of violence and hostility against China and his instead engaged in a history making rapprochement with Beijing that President Xi hailed as a “golden era” of bilateral relations. Duterte has also renounced hostility regarding old claims against Malaysia and has vowed to instead work in the ASEAN format for cooperation with all south east Asian partners. By contrast, Duterte’s Liberal opponents continue to push for confrontation against China, even at a time when some Liberals, including the controversial Vice President aren’t even aware of what territories The Philippines have laid claim to in the South China Sea.
At present, The Philippine military is woefully under-equipped, thus making the very idea of taking on a fellow ASEAN state in a military battle a difficult endeavour. Extrapolated further, attacking the Chinese superpower would not only be a suicide mission from a military point of view, but from a position of common sense it would be ludicrous as China continues to work with The Philippines as a positive partner for peace through prosperity inducing inter-connectivity initiatives. Chinese President Xi and Philippine President Duterte have shown a commitment to a partnership that can overcome any lingering disagreements. The fact that some in the Philippine opposition have compared the prospect of pan-Asian peace through prosperity to some kind of “surrender” belies the dangerous ignorance which underscores the Liberal political program (or lack thereof).
But while the Liberal Party wants to theoretically take on one of the top armed forces in history with ageing and obsolete equipment, Duterte realises that the wars of the future for countries in south east Asia will not be traditional state-on-state conflicts but will instead be wars between legitimate governments and insurgents, terrorists, narcotics traffickers and pirates.
As The Philippines is comprised of multiple islands, it is all the more easy for narcotics traffickers and their co-conspirator terrorist arms traffickers to sneak contraband into a country whose maritime frontiers are necessarily vulnerable. Therefore, it is crucial for The Philippines to make use of smart military technology in order to stop the inflow of both drugs and weapons to lawless groups within the country.
According to a military spokesman,
“We’re putting a premium on unmanned aerial vehicles, long-range patrol aircraft, offshore patrol ships and an electric-diesel submarine”.
This statement indicates that Duterte’s increased military budget will be spent on modern warcraft designed to preemptively track and intercept the illegal trafficking of contraband into the country. For example, while a fleet of bombers would be of little practical use against maritime traffickers, submarines, including unmanned mini-subs are an effective way of catching traffickers off-guard. Thus, Duterte’s push to make The Philippines a naval power with submarines in its fleet is far more important than it may sound.
Duterte has already proved that he has a far better ability to form new security partnerships than most of his predecessors. Duterte has successfully secured delivery of free weapons from Russia as a good will gesture and as a means of Moscow demonstrating its multi-continental approach to helping nations fight the scourge of terrorism.
Likewise, Duterte has applauded the ease of working on rational, ideology-free weapons deals with China while the Philippine President has also secured Beijing’s support in helping to fight the illegal narco-trade. Duterte has further rebutted provocations from the media which sought to blame China for the domestic drug problem. Duterte has in fact praised China’s tough approach to drugs, saying that “China has strict anti-drug laws, which carries even the penalty of execution when caught“.
It can therefore be concluded that Duterte’s ability to secure cooperation from important superpower partners in the war against the drug trade and terrorism encompasses both the delivery of weapons and the procurement of agreements to work collaborative and collectively to stop the South China Sea from becoming the world’s biggest maritime narcotics network. This duel-headed approach is the only one that aims to tackle major security risks holistically. By contrast, the irresponsible Liberal policy of antagonism towards China would in fact result in disunity which could be easily exploited by a criminal element.
While excessive spending on arms can be a quick way to drain national coffers, in the case of The Philippines, Duterte’s budget increase is both sustainable and necessary. The Philippines is under direct threat from Daesh aligned terrorists who have made inroads in Mindanao, while the threat of NPA sub-political gangsters also remains. Perhaps most importantly, while fighting drugs on the streets has helped to secure the human rights of normal Filipinos against a decades long reign of narco-terror, ultimately, stopping drugs on the seas will be even more important than stopping them in the streets.
In this sense, Duterte’s new military budget is the right amount, which will be spent on the right equipment at the right time in order to address the realistic threats posed to the peace and security of The Philippines.
While the Liberals continue to advocate for literally insane wars that the United States would have a difficult time winning without resorting to the use of its nuclear weapons and are likewise irresponsibly advocating for fighting these wars with one of the most technologically outdated armed forces in the region, Duterte instead knows the real wars that must be fought because he understands the nature of non-traditional enemies of the state in the 21st century.
Like with so much else, when it comes to the military needs of The Philippines, the Liberals want to fight impossible wars with yesterday’s weapons. By contrast, Duterte intends to fight the real enemy and do so with modern technology geared towards domestic security rather than appeasing the fantastical dreams of corrupt politicians.