Sometimes one wonders what the Philippine military is thinking — and how much more patient it will remain. It is under a lot of pressure to defend the civilian national ego — using rusty unreliable equipment funded by the shifting winds of that ego. This is like being in a relationship with a schizophrenic nymphomaniac. One moment she is saluting you, the other moment she is in a tryst with the other man.
Look no further than recent developments. Hundreds of Filipino troops gave their lives fighting the MILF and the MNLF. One can’t help but wonder how the mothers and widows of these poor brave men now feel seeing their sons’ Commander-in-Chief in bed with the enemy cobbling together the latest Mindanao “peace deal”. To add insult to injury, the Malaysian government played a pivotal role in that farce — a government that once funded the very insurgency and terrorist acts that resulted in tens of thousands of Filipino deaths.
So we are told now there are “fears” being felt for the nine Filipino marines manning the BRP Sierra Madre, the “loneliest” Philippine military outpost — a derelict naval vessel grounded on Ayungin Shoal serving as an in-your-face nose-thumbing at the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Who exactly “fears” for their lives? Strangely, the article cited above does not say. A recounting of the ordeal by Lieutenant Mike Pelotera who headed the most recent Marine unit posted at the Sierra Madre inadvertently provided the bigger context from the perspective of a good soldier…
For Pelotera, 30, confronting China at sea was more daunting than other missions fighting deadly jungle battles against Islamic militants in the southern Philippines.
“Both missions are dangerous. But here, we are against a bigger enemy. And we are protecting our sovereignty, not just fighting a small group of rebels… here we are always in danger.”
For the Philippine military, the enemy is and was the same enemy — Islamic militants, or the PLA. The politics may change, but the enemy rarely does for the average Filipino soldier, which brings to light the more important question: What does winning really mean when negotiating with terrorists and the PLA?
Recent events have revealed that Filipinos all but provided a confused answer to that question. They exchanged high-fives following the signing of the Mindanao “peace deal” engineered by Manila and Kuala Lumpur together with the MILF. What remains unresolved is whether the latter two actually cease to be risks to Philippine national security from a purely military perspective — and as such, continue to be regarded as possible military threats as far as the Philippine military is concerned. Indeed, many MILF elements remain armed and outside the control of the supposedly “recognised” MILF leader Al Haj Murad.
More disturbing is Manila’s long-standing territorial dispute with Kuala Lumpur over the territory of Sabah. Malaysia had already demonstrated, in the past, a strong inclination to deploy menacing military resources to defend the territory with deadly force. Back in early 2013, Kuala Lumpur had ignored pleas from Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert F. del Rosario to exercise “maximum tolerance” in dealing with a group of armed Filipinos claiming to be members of the Royal Army of the Sultanate of Sulu who had occupied a handful of villages along the coast of Sabah.
In what was claimed by Kuala Lumpur to be no more than a “police operation”, Malaysian military planes bombarded a 20-kilometre radius encompassing the Sabah villages of Kampung Tanduo, Tanjung Labian and Kampung Tanjung Batu where the Filipino militants were supposedly holed up.
Suffice to say, regardless of the politics and civilian schmoozing involved, normal military strategic thinking dictates that a nation’s military resources should at least match the destructive capability of the forces of a foreign government that poses a possible threat to it. Military action will always be an option against Malaysia as long as the Sabah question remains unresolved. The only reason Filipinos are made to believe it is not one is because the Philippines remains woefully outgunned by Malaysia at present.
The China issue is similarly a no-brainer. Manila only has a rust bucket to show for in its effotts to thwart any further incursion into its territory by the PLA. Then again, the Sierra Madre may be a more potent deterrent to military adventurism than a piece of paper signed by Manila, Kuala Lumpur, and the MILF.
[Photo coutesy Manila Bulletin.]
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