MANILA—Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff General Eduardo Año this week updated the House committee on national defense and security on the national security situation, the “three-tiered” Revised AFP Modernization Program, and the support they need for their legislative agenda.
The officials informed the committee, chaired by Rep. Amado T. Espino, Jr. (5th District, Pangasinan), that among the internal security concerns currently being addressed by the DND and AFP are the threats coming from the extremist groups such as the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS)-identified local terrorist groups, the presence of foreign terrorists they are closely monitoring, and the extortion activities of leftists groups Communist Party of the Philippines, New People’s Army and National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF).
At the onset, committee vice chairman Rep. Rozanno Rufino B. Biazon (Lone District, Muntinlupa City) and Rep. Harry L. Roque (Party-list, Kabayan) asked Lorenzana and Año if they would prefer an executive session since they might have information that are highly classified or on the “need to know” basis.
But Lorenzana said they prefer an open hearing because the people deserve to know about the present national security situation.
The officials said successful military offensives resulted in the death, capture or surrender of top leaders of the abovementioned terror groups. The offensives weakened the terror groups, according to them.
They said the government will continue its assault so as not to give the terror groups a chance to regroup. They also expressed optimism that as the peace talks between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) gain headway, this will result in fewer skirmishes with government troops.
Rep. Aniceto D. Bertiz III (Party-list, ACTS-OFW) inquired on the status of the arrested and deported ISIS-linked Hussein Azo Aldhafiri, Winston Q8 operations manager, and his wife Raja Zina, who operated the terror group’s Philippine operations and siphoned off hundreds of millions of pesos from Taiwan-bound overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).
“This is a national security concern because we are talking about a big amount of money being used to fund a terrorist group. They have a nationwide operation and don’t need foreign funding from other terrorist groups because they are earning around Php 900 million per day,” Bertiz said as he submitted documents that could help authorities in their follow-up operations.
Bertiz said concerned agencies have yet to act on the still existing and 99 percent foreign-owned (a clear violation of the law) Winston Q8 company in Taguig despite its proven linkage and posing as an imminent threat to the country’s national security.
Bertiz also expressed concern on the database still being held by Winston Q8, bearing the names of OFWs which might be used against the workers in the future.
Espino agreed that the matter should be taken seriously as it is clearly a national security issue. “Nasaan na ba talaga ang mga kalaban? Sino ba talaga ang uma-attend sa mga kalaban? Terrorism na ito. Biruin mo, sarili nating mga OFW, na tinatawag nating mga heroes, nagagamit without them knowing it,” Espino said.
Lorenzana clarified that while they were involved in the monitoring and eventual arrest of the terrorist-linked couple, they are not the lead agency on the matter.
As to Roque’s question on the extent of ISIS presence in the country and the relation of the recent Quiapo bombing to local ISIS-linked counterparts, Lorenza said the Office of the National Security Adviser issues official statements related to terrorist presence.
On the external threats raised during the hearing, these include Chinese incursions and sightings of their vessels in the contested islands and waters of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) and Benham Rise off the coast of Isabela in the Philippine Sea.
Rep. Gary C. Alejano (Party-list, Magdalo) said the country should have a clear overall strategy in the light of these incursions and reported harassment of Filipino fishermen.
He further said the relationship the President is building with the Chinese, and the plans he would like to pursue, including joint military exercises with China, would not renege on the country’s treaties with other ally countries and would benefit the country more.
On the Revised AFP Modernization Program, the AFP reported that the Horizon 1 Phase is about to end with expected deliveries of remaining air, maritime, land and cyberspace defense equipment and completion of remaining/ongoing projects.
Horizon 2 Phase will start from 2018 to 2022, while the third and last phase, Horizon 3, will commence starting 2023 to 2027.
AFP officers, however, said that there are factors that affect the implementation of the Horizon 1 Program such as the funding requirement, the trust fund whose implementation is still pending despite its clear provision in the law, and problems experienced with the procurement law, among others. They detailed their recommendations to the committee.
Espino and the lawmakers urged the AFP officers to submit all their legislative suggestions and priorities. They also advised them to work closely with the House, especially this coming long recess, so that the committee can study the proposals with them and come up with the necessary laws suited to the needs of the DND.
“Let’s go to the bottom line, starting with what is achievable. Isantabi muna natin ang mga ibang hindi naman natin kaya sa ngayon,” Espino said .
Meanwhile, Espino said the investigations on the procurement of old models of defense equipment, vehicles and other items are in order, recalling a similar fiasco in the Department of Transportation (DOTr) where incompatible carriages were procured and have remained useless until today.