Fortifying the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) defense posture will help the military to better defend the country’s territory from internal and external threats, including its maritime interests in the hotly-contested West Philippine Sea (WPS).
This was the message emphasized by Lt. Gen. Jose Faustino Jr. in his assumption speech after he officially took oath as the 56th AFP Chief of Staff on Saturday afternoon, July 31, replacing now retired Gen. Cirilito Sobejana.
Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana presided over the joint change of command and retirement ceremony held at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City.
Faustino, who spent most of his career in Mindanao, said he wishes to establish a Center for Self-Reliant Defense Posture which shall “protect the country’s interests from foreign control” and “promote limited dependence and outside support for our defense requirements.”
“Self-reliance on our country’s defense manufacturing capabilities coupled with the full utilization of our own natural resources will be the foundation of our SRDP program. Without this capability and self-reliance, our country’s defense efforts will be forever dependent on foreign nations’ generosity or intentions when it comes to the defense of our territory,” he said.
“I intend to pursue a reliable and appropriate defense posture for the attainment of lasting peace. To accomplish this, we will follow a direction based on experience and best practices learned over decades of service and collective efforts to achieve [the] goal of having a safe and peaceful country for our people,” he added.
The trailblazing military commander knew that the military should be able to manufacture its own aircraft, ships, fighting equipment, and other assets if it wants to be at par with its Southeast Asian neighbors.
To change the narrative that the AFP is one of the most underequipped military organizations in Southeast Asia, a revised modernization program was implemented under the administration of the late former Pres. Benigno Aquino III in 2013 where the government boosted the capabilities of the military through an increased defense spending.
Currently, the modernization program is on its second “horizon” or phase which will run from 2018 to 2022. The first phase was conducted from 2013 to 2017 while the third and last phase will take place from 2023 to 2028. Among the military’s new acquisitions include two missile-capable frigates, six close air support aircraft, and 16 combat utility helicopters.
Addressing violent extremism
Faustino also wanted to establish a Center for Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism (CPCVE) to “better understand the intricacies of violent extremism and find relevant solutions.”
He said the CPCVE will provide a “holistic, inter-disciplinary, collaborative, community-based, [and] preventive approach” to “study, document, and quantify” the nature and magnitude of the threat factors that contribute to the radicalization of Filipinos.
This was a challenge he personally had to face as a commander of the Davao City-based Eastern Mindanao Command (EastMinCom) in January 2020, and head of the Joint Task Force for Peace and Security in Mindanao in May 2021 where he oversaw the joint operations of EastMinCom and Western Mindanao Command (WestMinCom) against Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), Dawlah Islamiyah (DA), and Maute Group among other local terrorist groups.
“The AFP’s overall military disposition, condition of readiness, and strength shall be fined-tuned to respond to the challenges we are now facing,” Faustino said, noting that insurgency is among the biggest threats being faced by the country along with the coronavirus disease pandemic (COVID-19), territorial dispute, terrorism, and natural disasters.
But Faustino acknowledged that developing a Center for Self-Reliant Defense Posture and Center for Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism are Herculean tasks since he will only serve as AFP Chief for barely four months unless his tenure is extended by President Duterte. He will reach the compulsory retirement age of 56 years old on Novermber 12, 2021.
Nonetheless, he is optimistic that he will be able to achieve this through the support of the 130,000-strong AFP.
He urged every soldier, airman, sailor, and marine to “serve with honor and patriotism,” and “place our national interest over [personal] interest, patriotism over politics, sacrifice over comfort, and to do the right thing over [what] is convenient.”
“We should all move towards our goal of winning the peace and defending our country despite the odds,” said Faustino, a member of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) “Maringal” Class of 1988.
Valor awardee retired
Meanwhile, Sobejana, who is considered as one of the “living legends” of AFP, capped off his career as a military man which spanned 38 years and four months. He celebrated his 56th birthday on Saturday, the mandatory retirement age for military personnel.
Then a captain, Sobejana became a recipient of the Medal of Valor award or the highest military honor after he courageously led his 20-member unit against a 150-member Abu sayyaf Group in Isabela, Basilan in 1995. He sustained a severe injury on his right hand, so bad it was almost severed from his body. His unique left hand salute is forced by this injury.
He thanked their Commander-in-Chief, President Duterte, and Defense Chief Lorenzana for giving him the opportunity to serve the AFP as its 55th Chief of Staff even for a brief stint. He only served for around six months, having been appointed in January.
“My service does not end upon my retirement. Me, as a ranger, will always heed the call of duty if necessary,” he said.