Philippine National Security

* As of July 2009 when this post was originally written, it was the consensus of international geopolitical experts that the Philippines faced no major external threat. Since then however, China has been presented as a national bugaboo for reasons of which the general populace are unaware. President Rodgrigo Duterte, elected in May 2016, appears to be attempting to his best to rectify the situation, which is untenable for the nation in the long term considering its place in history, culture, and geography.

Armed Forces Overview: The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) consists of a 66,000-member army; a 24,000-member navy, including 7,500 marines; and a 16,000-member air force. Active forces are supplemented by 131,000 reserves. A joint service command covers five military areas. The 6,000-member National Capital Region Command, established in November 2003, is responsible for protecting the government against coup attempts. The president of the republic is commander in chief of the armed forces. The AFP is poorly funded and is armed with antiquated equipment. In 2003 the government moved to replace World War II-era rifles. In addition, only slightly more than half of the Philippines’ naval ships are operational, and only a
few air force planes are combat ready. Compounding the problem of inadequate equipment, the AFP’s leadership has been accused of corruption and complicity with insurgent groups, although its primary mission involves counterinsurgency. In July 2003, junior officers staged an unsuccessful coup. The Philippines is the recipient of U.S. military assistance.

Foreign Military Relations: The United States and the Philippines have a mutual defense treaty that has been in effect since 1952, but it does not extend to territorial disputes involving the Spratly Islands. In 2003 the United States designated the Philippines as a major non-North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally. Total U.S. military assistance to the Philippines rose from US$38 million in 2001 to US$114 million in 2003 and a projected US$164 million in 2005, which would make the Philippines the fourth largest recipient of U.S. foreign military assistance. Australia reportedly also a major source of military assistance.

Defense Budget: The defense budget for 2005 totaled US$840 million, or 5 percent of the proposed government budget of US$16.5 billion. Almost half of the defense budget was designated for the army. Viewed another way, 80 percent of the budget was slated for personnel and almost the entire remaining amount, for maintenance and operating expenses. Thus, less than 1 percent was available for desperately needed procurement.

Major Military Units:
The army has eight light infantry divisions, one special operations command, five engineering battalions, one artillery regiment at headquarters, one presidential security group, and three light-reaction companies. The navy has two commands—Fleet and Marine Corps. Navy bases are located at Sangley Point/Cavite, Zamboanga, and Cebu. The air force is organized into headquarters and five commands: air defense, tactical operations, air education and training, air logistics and supply, and air reserves.

Major Military Equipment: The army is equipped with 65 light tanks, 85 armored infantry fighting vehicles, and 370 armored personnel carriers, as well as towed artillery, mortars, recoilless launchers, and several small aircraft. The navy is equipped with one frigate; 58 patrol and coastal combatants; 7 amphibious ships, plus about 39 amphibious craft; and 11 support and miscellaneous vessels. However, in April 2003 the armed forces chief of staff stated that only 56 percent of the navy’s vessels were operational. Naval aviation has six transport aircraft and four search-and-rescue helicopters. The air force has 36 combat aircraft and 25 armed helicopters.

Military Service:
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is an all-volunteer force. The minimum age for service is 20 years.

Paramilitary Forces: Paramilitary forces include the civilian Philippine National Police (under the Department of Interior and Local Government), with an estimated 115,000 personnel; the Coast Guard (run by the navy but technically part of the Department of Transportation and Communications), numbering 3,500; and local citizen armed militias, the Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Units (CAFGUs) estimated to number 40,000–82,000.

Foreign Military Forces: Beginning in 2002, the U.S. military has assisted the Armed Forces of the Philippines in fighting the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), an al Qaeda affiliate. Although foreign militaries are formally banned from conducting operations on Philippine soil, the U.S. military has maintained an officially advisory presence in the Philippines continuously since 2002. The two nations regularly conduct joint training exercises in the Philippines.

Military Forces Abroad:
The Philippines has participated in a variety of United Nations (UN)-sponsored peacekeeping missions, most recently the UN Mission in Burundi, the UN Mission of Support in East Timor, the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti, the UN Mission in Ivory Coast, and the UN Mission in Liberia. The Philippines also participated in United States-led operations in Iraq, with troops involved in humanitarian assistance starting in August 2003. However, the Philippines decided to withdraw its small force in July 2004 when insurgents took a Filipino truck driver hostage.