Hand-carried by special courier is the following letter from Secretary of National Defense Voltaire T. Gazmin. I thank the good secretary for his response, and for the benefit of our readers both military and civilian, I am publishing his letter in full.
Dear Major General Farolan:
The various views and comments you have expressed, including those of our illustrious veterans and citizens, in your Reveille of 25 June 2012, are very well understood and appreciated.
We certainly accord utmost respect to the rationale and perceived wisdom of your respective opinions. Nevertheless, allow me to refresh ourselves with certain facts on the issues that you have mentioned in your column.
The Muslim rebellion in southern Philippines began in the early ’70s. Our national leaders wasted no time in finding the right approaches to end the conflict. They have, one after the other, applied their own solutions to the problem. In the process, thousands of our citizens, both our soldiers and brother Muslim rebels, including innocent civilians, perished in the resultant countless armed confrontations. Sadly, to date, we are still amidst the same situation. And, notably, by our own actions we have wasted just too many lives of our own citizens.
Thus, our national leadership has launched the Internal Peace and Security Plan “Bayanihan” or IPSP “Bayanihan,” a whole-of-nation approach to win the peace for all of our countrymen. This new security strategy envisions to attain genuine peace through self-help and cooperation among all of our countrymen in the communities regardless of their callings in life, be they in government service or civilian citizens. Currently, our government is involved in the peace process with our Muslim brothers to once and for all arrive at the true solution to these four decades of conflict.
The Al-Barka, Basilan massacre of 19 Army troopers in October of last year was an unfortunate incident. Admittedly, that has affected the implementation of the peace process with our Muslim brothers. We have grieved so much on the loss of the precious lives of our soldiers. This is the reason why our Armed Forces has been ascertaining the real causes that led to that tragedy and pinpoint those who are truly responsible, including our very own officers.
We have not cast hasty judgment on who was at fault. We placed our court martial procedures in order, as we avoided the normal retaliatory actions to similarly incur casualties on the enemy. We discarded the thought of vengeance as we vigorously pursue the peace process to achieve our aspiration of lasting peace and stability in Mindanao.
Our stand in the Scarborough Shoal issue is premised from the mandate of our constitutional duty: “The Armed Forces of the Philippines is the protector of the people and the state. Its goal is to secure the sovereignty of the state and the integrity of the national territory.” This is the mandate that caused the passage of RA 7898 in 1995, otherwise known as the AFP Modernization Act. There is therefore no argument against the implementation of this law that would assure all of us Filipinos of our readiness to secure and defend any part of the Republic of the Philippines when it becomes necessary.
The modernization of our Armed Forces has been long overdue. It becomes understandable therefore that by the dictates of our scarce resources, we cannot simply procure at one time a large array of military platforms. We have to do it piece by piece over a length of time as allowed by our financial capability.
Nevertheless our planned acquisitions are not intended to compete with the status of any Armed Forces. They are meant to develop a reliable defense capability worthy of securing our sovereign state and its territorial integrity. And for almost 17 years after the passage of the AFP Modernization Act, we are just attempting now to embark on the upgrade of the sorry state of our armed capability.
Addressing the internal and external defense and security problems of our country is the constitutional responsibility of our national government. One problem is as vital as the others. Nonetheless their degree of importance can be reckoned from the desired outcome should we fail to immediately attend to an extremely urgent problem.
Thank you for hearing the views of our Defense Department.
With our continued highest regard and esteem.
Very truly yours,
Voltaire T. Gazmin
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On Al-Barka. We must distinguish freedom fighters who struggle for a just cause from criminals who torture and mutilate their victims. The latter, by their actions, have placed themselves beyond the pale (of any peace process considerations). By the way, the AFP knows who the main culprit is. He happens to be a repeat offender. In 2007, Marines on a search mission for kidnapped Italian priest Fr. Giancarlo Bossi suffered the same fate as the army troopers also at Al-Barka.
In criminal proceedings, the complainant is People of the Philippines—not the victims or even their family members. And it is justice, not vengeance, that is demanded by People of the Philippines.
Somehow I get the sinking feeling that in the end, the only ones to be punished, if convicted by court martial proceedings, are our officers. How can we bring to justice the criminals involved if we are unable to conduct pursuit operations because of ongoing peace negotiations? Under the current rules of engagement accepted by our government, we need MILF consent to send our troops into MILF-controlled territory or so-called “areas of temporary safety (ATS).”
On Scarborough Shoal. In July 1969, three US astronauts—Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin and Michael Collins—headed for a lunar landing onboard Apollo 11. Armstrong was the first to make contact with the moon’s surface, announcing to the world, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Last week, three Chinese astronauts—Jing Haipeng, mission commander, with Liu Wang and Liu Yang, China’s first female astronaut—returned to Earth after a 13-day space mission that included both remote and manual docking with an orbiting module, all part of preparations for manning a permanent space station. The mission, Shenzhou 9, was a milestone in the country’s ambitious space program.
In light of the Scarborough Shoal dispute, we are preparing to spend P15 billion for radar stations and 12 fighter jets.
It is my hope and prayer that our military planners have done their homework.