Gen. Tony Sotelo on defense and VFA
When I retired from the military service in 1986, Lt. Gen. Antonio Sotelo succeeded me as commanding general of the Philippine Air Force and later went on to serve as Armed Forces of the Philippines vice chief of staff. People will remember him as one of the heroes of the Edsa revolution when he led a flight of helicopters that defected to the Enrile-Ramos forces at Camp Crame during the early stages of the revolt. It was a major tipping point in the struggle that led to the ouster of President Ferdinand Marcos. His views on various issues affecting the nation have always been well-informed and incisive particularly on defense matters. He shares with us his take on the capability of our security forces and points out that life will go on even without the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).
Can the AFP defend the West Philippine Sea?
Sotelo says, “Our security forces cannot defend the West Philippine Sea. They are shaped and managed to fight a conventional war. All our neighbors who have the capability to invade us, specially China have their armed forces all equipped with superior firepower and are also in greater numbers. Their armed forces can therefore vanquish our own at any time in a conventional war.
“I have attended several symposia with the theme ‘to develop a self-reliant defense capability’ but all I could see is an AFP patterned after the US armed forces, a force we are in no position to build and maintain. I have seen joint exercises by our military with the United States with equipment we can never own, nor acquire by the means we have. How much do you think would an Osprey helicopter cost, or an amphibious assault tank? These are the combat equipment I see being practiced on. In the first place, will America give them to us? In the second place, is it in our battle plan to attack the islands in the South China Sea now fortified by China?
“We procured 12 FA-50 fighter planes at the cost of $35 million per aircraft, for a total of $420 million. To keep that meager fleet fully equipped, maintained and combat-ready would cost the Air Force, as a rule of thumb, 10 percent of the procurement cost, which is $42 million annually. Can the government afford to spend that much just for the 12 fighter jets? The same goes for the Navy. It procured several fighting ships with their associated weapons systems at great expense. The irony of it all is that, in the opening hours of hostilities, the ships, fighter jets and radars will be the first to go. Lesser ships and fighter jets are no match for technologically more advanced weapons systems.
“One could therefore argue that indeed the country needs the VFA and America’s largesse to maintain the AFP. This was the gist of the hearing held at the Senate as to whether or not the VFA should remain in spite of the President’s decision to terminate the treaties we have with our former colonizer.
“With all due respect to our defense planners, past and present, we are in this dire situation because we have always been dependent on and subservient to America and America saw to it that their presence in our country remains as our lifeblood. And so today, ‘the little brown brothers of America’ are all up in arms telling us one and all that we need America for our existence.
“The fact of the matter is that we can fight any country by the employment of asymmetric warfare. This is the kind of warfare that poor countries have employed against technologically more advanced countries. Vietnam defeated France and the United States and today continues fighting off Chinese intrusions into their territory. In Central Asia, the Afghan mujahideen outfought the Russians and forced their withdrawal.
“Vietnam, a country very similar to ours, won by the application of proper strategy and tactics. Vietnam had no Navy to start with. It had a few fighter planes in the beginning but all were shot down by superior US air power. What remained in their armed forces were their foot soldiers, with limited arms and weaponry. They won because of the quality of their leaders and the tenacity of their army to continue the struggle amidst all the hardships and difficulties not just for years, but for decades. And so today we see the Vietnamese as a proud people, fully independent, on their way to prosperity and respect from the international community.
“In the Cry of Balintawak, Andres Bonifacio unsheathed his bolo against Spanish rifles to signal the start of the revolt against Spain. His efforts would bring about the First Republic in Asia.”
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