Newly appointed Defense chief Gilbert Teodoro said the Philippines is not a pawn in the geopolitical maneuvering in the South China Sea.
Reacting to Chinese criticism of recent moves by the administration, Teodoro said the Philippines should not be questioned in its initiatives to bolster its defensive capabilities.
“Just like we do not question the build-up of defensive and offensive capabilities of other countries, they should not question ours, and they should not tie up our build-up of our capabilities to any question of whether it is Taiwan or what not,” Teodoro said in an interview with ANC.
Returning to lead the Department of National Defense after more than a decade, Teodoro insisted that the Philippines’ partnerships with other nations should not be linked to the territorial dispute in the Asia-Pacific region.
“The Philippines is for the Philippines and we leverage that. And I think other countries want to help us because they view it as… standing strong with democratic values,” he said.
“The Philippines is a value proposition by its own self, and is not a pawn of anybody else in the geopolitical battle that’s raging within our area now,” he added.
In April, China condemned the Philippines for expanding the number of military bases in the country that US troops can use under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.
The Philippines and the US added four new military sites, with two of them near Taiwan.
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. defended the decision on EDCA, saying the bases will not be used for any offensive attacks and would be focused on disaster response and humanitarian aid.
Teodoro bared that Marcos admonished him to keep any agreements with allies purely defensive.
He said his first order from the President was to reform the military and uniformed personnel (MUP) pension system.
Teodoro said Mr. Marcos instructed him to work with other agencies, lawmakers, and economic managers to find a sustainable MUP scheme.
The current MUP system is fully funded by the government through annual appropriations in the country’s budget.
Last month, Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno deemed the current MUP system “financially unsustainable” and said it might cause a fiscal collapse in the near future.
But some lawmakers and military officials said that the changes in the current pension system might demoralize the morale of the troops and affect the recruitment rate.
Teodoro’s predecessor, Carlito Galvez, had said that at least 70 to 80 percent of enlisted personnel might retire if the proposed MUP scheme is adopted.
Teodoro said he will consult with all the stakeholders in the DND to come up with the most appropriate system.
“A self-sustaining pension system scheme needs time. You need to build up the fund, and we will need to find sources in order to raise capital for the fund, and we need to grow the fund,” Teodoro said.
On the other hand, Teodoro said that he will lobby Congress for a separate budget for the Defense department’s capital outlay.
“We cannot continue to have a Department of National Defense without a capital outlay for our own department. We need to build up the capabilities of this department as part of the national defense family, and I would like to state that is one of my goals, to build up the capabilities of the national defense proper,” he said.
He said that having a capital outlay for the DND would boost its military capabilities and national defense, and help manage its attached agencies, including the modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
“In the modernization, the AFP set the horizons. What we will do is to make sure that they get the best at the most affordable cost with the most sustainability as possible,” he added.
Teodoro also said he opposed reopening peace talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).
“To enter into peace talks, I have always been against that,” Teodoro said.
“Why will we enter into peace talks when they can go back and run for public office? This is really a violation of our democratic process,” he added.
Teodoro pointed out that if the concerns of the CPP are a substantial issue, there are existing political processes under the Constitution for them.
“It cannot take up arms and just violate the Constitution, in the same way as we do not want rightists also to take up arms against the government. It works both ways,” he said.
When he served as DND secretary during the Arroyo administration Teodor said the CPP’s struggle was not about ideology but about taking power.
He also said the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), which has been accused of red-tagging government critics, was doing its job well.
“Well, naturally any violation of law is reprehensible and should be disciplined. However, we cannot also deny the gains made by the NTF-ELCAC in dismantling communist fronts,” he said.
Also on Wednesday, Senator Jinggoy Estrada said having a permanent secretary at the DND was crucial, as this would ensure continuity and stability, expertise, effective coordination, policy implementation, accountability, and representation in defense and security matters.
“These contribute to the overall efficiency and effectiveness of the defense sector in safeguarding the nation’s security,” said Estrada, who chairs the Senate defense committee.