AFP chief of staff commits to protect WPS despite ban on joint drills

Published August 9, 2020, 7:02 PM

by Martin Sadongdong

Lieutenant General Gilbert Gapay, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, has promised to uphold the country’s sovereignty in the West Philippines Sea (WPS) despite President Duterte’s standing order to the military to refrain from participating in naval drills with its foreign allies.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP)

Gapay, who was appointed to the top AFP post last week, said the Philippine Navy (PN) and Philippine Air Force (PAF) will continue to patrol the features being claimed by the country in the hotly disputed waters.

“The temporary suspension of our participation in the drills should not be viewed as [we] backing out from our claims or job of asserting our sovereignty. The AFP’s presence in the West Philippine Sea continues,” he said in  televised interview.

Last week, Defense Secretry Delfin Lorenzana revealed that Duterte ordered him to avoid joining drills in the South China Sea (SCS), where the presence of United States military has recently been increased to counter China’s actions.

But Gapay said the military will still push through with its unilateral drills which will be done inside the country’s territorial waters.

“It’s a political decision and we abide by that but this is as far as drills beyond our national territory [are concerned]. We have unilateral local drills which we conduct in our territory, meaning within our 12-mile territorial waters. Pwede ‘yon (It can be done),” he said.

“It doesn’t mean we’re backing down in our claims and in protecting our sovereignty in the area,” he added.

On the contrary, Gapay said there are no orders coming from the President to stop the patrol operations in the WPS.

“Every day we monitor what’s happening in the West Philippine Sea. We maintain military presence in the area,” he stressed.

The Navy and the Air Force, as well as the Philippine Army (PA), are also enhancing their capabilities to better protect the country’s interests in the WPS, Gapay shared.

Last May 2020, the Navy acquired its newest warship, BRP Jose Rizal, from South Korea. The frigate’s sister ship, BRP Antonio Luna, is scheduled to be delivered later this year.

Gapay said the Air Force has also reclaimed its former glory with the acquisition of FA-50 lead-in fighter trainers. Meanwhile, the procurement of multi-role fighter planes is included in the second horizon of the revised AFP modernization plan.

“For quite some time, the last jet fighters we have were the F5s (fighter jets) which were decommissioned several years ago and it’s only now that we’re having jets in our inventory,” he stressed.

The army, for its part, will  be getting mortar carriers and self-propelled artillery to beef up its capabilities.

“This is really the intent of the modernization program, to have a credible armed forces fully capable of performing its basic mandate of protecting the people, upholding our sovereignty and preserving territorial integrity,” he stressed.