A more pro-active shift in PH defense strategy | Inquirer Opinion

A more pro-active shift in PH defense strategy

/ 05:08 AM October 26, 2023

The recently released National Security Policy (NSP) 2023-2028 identifies national sovereignty and territorial integrity as a key national security interest. The NSP recognizes that the Philippines faces a convergence of security challenges both at the domestic and international fronts, and cites a number of these challenges. For this piece, I’d like to focus on the external challenges and threats to Philippine national sovereignty and territorial integrity, and how the current environment has led the Department of National Defense (DND) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines to adopt a shift in the country’s defense strategy.

In a media interview in early October, AFP chief of staff Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. noted that current defense planning—which includes capability building for the AFP via the defense modernization program—is undergoing a reconfiguration. This would enable the military to shift from its old strategy of territorial defense in-depth to one that is more proactive, such as forward defense, that would cover the full extent of our exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Brawner explained that the former strategy consisted of several lines of defense, with the military waiting for the threats to come near these defensive lines before engaging with the enemy. In order to effectively pursue the key national security interest of protecting Philippine sovereignty and territorial integrity, the AFP must be able to project its defense capabilities outwards, not only along our coastlines and baselines, but including our EEZ. This is what the new strategy of forward defense seeks to achieve.

This shift in defense strategy definitely makes sense. The recent aggressive, provocative, and dangerous actions of China’s coast guard and maritime militia against the Philippine Coast Guard and their harassment of Filipino fishermen in our maritime territory and entitlements in the West Philippine Sea in recent months, amplify the need for our country to develop a strategy to address this foreign threat in our waters. The territorial defense in depth strategy will not be suitable for that challenge, as based on Brawner’s description, it is premised on an enemy force attempting to invade and occupy the country.


While the threat of conflict looms in our region, the Philippines is not likely to get invaded and occupied by a foreign power. Though that scenario cannot be totally discounted, the more current challenge and threat is our inability to fully secure our EEZ and maritime territory. Disruptions and obstacles to our efforts to harness the resources in our EEZ, and our inability to enforce our maritime boundaries, are realities we cannot ignore. It’s good to know that the DND and the AFP have recognized that by adopting a defense strategy that aims to deter and address threats at the edge of our EEZ and maritime territory.

This shift in strategy will require considerable expense not only in terms of acquisition, but also in relation to sustaining the capabilities and assets needed by the AFP to carry it out. Our defense establishment needs an ever-increasing budget in the coming years to pursue its mission using this updated strategy.

However, national security interests and defense don’t only concern the government. There are many civil and dual use technologies, products, and systems that local industries and businesses can invest in and produce, as a way of enhancing the local defense industrial base of our country. The academe can also be tapped for research and development activities, and joint ventures.

It won’t be enough to simply have the capability for a credible deterrent and defense posture, but we also need the capacity to sustain the operations of these assets. Establishing a local defense industrial base, which is also identified as a goal in the NSP, is one means of doing so. On July 28, Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. called on the business sector to take part in the DND’s plans to establish a local defense industry. Let’s hope that call is heeded.



Moira G. Gallaga served three Philippine presidents as presidential protocol officer and was posted as a diplomat at the Philippine Consulate General in Los Angeles, and the Philippine Embassy in Washington.

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TAGS: Commentary, defense strategy

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