Should we prepare for war?

We have been waffling on this question– should we prepare for war? I do not mean as a belligerent party because the 1987 Philippine Constitution renounces war as an instrument of national policy and adopts the generally accepted principles of international law as part of the law of the land. (Declaration of Principles and State Policies, Article II Section 2) We also adhere to the policy of peace, equality, justice, freedom, cooperation and amity.

However, the Philippine archipelago which has the fifth longest coastline in the world (36, 289 kilometers) is smack in the center of the most transited and contested sea and air lanes. The Pacific Ocean is in the East; in the West are the South China Sea and our own West Philippine Sea. The Sulu and Celebes Seas are in the South. The Bashi channel in the extreme North is a mere 228 kilometers from the Republic of China, Taiwan, the vortex of remorseless geopolitical duels between world powers.

Although the primordial duty of the government (according to the 1987 Constitution) is to serve and protect the people, it may call upon them to defend the State. All citizens may be required to render military or civil service, under conditions provided by law. As Commander-in-Chief, the President can call out the Armed, Naval and Air Forces to prevent and/or suppress lawless violence, rebellion and repel invasions. When will Pres. Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. sound the call for us civilians to prepare for a looming regional war that will surely affect our lives?

The 1987 Constitution also stipulates that the State should recognize the vital role of the youth in nation-building, so it should promote and protect their physical, moral, spiritual and intellectual well-being. The State must also inculcate patriotism and nationalism in the youth and encourage their involvement in public and civic affairs. I wonder if the millennials, Gens X and Z are viscerally concerned, or even aware of what is going on around us.

I want my city mayor to convene her constituents so we can figure out what to do to protect ourselves against friendly fire and how we should secure food, water and medical supplies and indicate where we can go for medical assistance or where to hide until it’s safe to go home. Who doesn’t remember the “Drop, Cover and Hold on” of all those earthquake drills and the dramatic simulations held by gated villages and condominium corporations with their respective fire departments. We need a heightened level of preparedness, now!

Perhaps we are complacent because we feel that Uncle Sam will always come to our defense and never fail us; we have forgotten about the “I shall return” of World War II. Today, the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the USA and the Philippines is giving us a sense of security, only time will tell whether it is false or real. The Supreme Court deemed the EDCA constitutional as it is an offshoot of the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty.

The EDCA sites are not permanent military bases and are supposed to be jointly operated by the USA and the Philippines. For obvious military imperatives, most of these are found in either naval or air bases like the Camilo Osias Naval Base in Santa Ana, Cagayan, Antonio Bautista Airbase in Puerto Princesa, Palawan and the Balabac Island. Other EDCA sites are the Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu and Cesar Basa Air Base in Floridablanca, Pampanga. Also included are Camp Melchor de la Cruz in Gamu, Isabela where there is a well-equipped hospital and Fort Magsaysay Military Reservation in Nueva Ecija which has ample storage facilities.

EDCA’s avowed objective is to raise the AFP’s level of defense and of conducting relief operations in disaster-struck areas. The USA has construction projects in these sites which provide jobs to locals and boost small and medium businesses.

To everyone’s surprise, Senator Maria Imelda Romualdez Marcos, better known as Imee, questioned the selection of EDCA sites during a recent committee hearing. She observed that these were chosen at random and “…no longer purposeful with regard to the modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.” She argued that modernization should be the primordial goal of the EDCA besides disaster preparedness, maritime security and counter-terrorism.

“Are we just going to rely on foreigners to defend us while our Armed Forces remain neglected, outdated and completely abject in face of any external threat?” Senator Imee asked the right questions; it sounded like history was in open rebellion.