Press Release
August 30, 2023

Transcript of Interpellation of Senator Risa Hontiveros with AFP Chief of Staff General Romeo Brawner Jr. during the Commission on Appointments hearing

Senator Risa Hontiveros (SRH): First of all, on the AFP's revolving door policy and RA 11939. This Committee has always been cognizant of the constitutional role of the AFP as the "protector of the people and the state" and the country's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

However, the revolving door policy of the AFP often resulted in a lack of strategic direction and continuity of purpose in the organization. In fact, for the past years 20 years, 28 AFP Chiefs had been subjected for confirmation before this body - their tours of duty ranging from 8 days, to 1 year and 295 days. This policy was put to end with the passage of RA 11939 which set a fixed three-year tour of duty for key AFP officials.

Unang tanong po. General, pursuant dito sa RA 11939, you will serve as Chief of Staff of the AFP until 2026. You will have enough time to mold, shape, and transform our military in accordance with your personal vision and aspirations. Ano pong primary objectives ang intensyon ninyong ma-accomplish gamit nitong almost unprecedented mandate?

Gen. Brawner: When I took over as the chief of staff of AFP, I set forth my priority thrusts for the Armed Forces, and it is embodied in an acronym UNITY. U stands for unification. We will have to unify the AFP as a solid and professional organization. We will also try to help unify our communities as we are deployed in the most remote areas in our country. We will try to unify families by making sure that our former rebels are united back with their families.

Letter N is for normalization. We will focus also on the normalization of the Bangsamoro region. Kailangan po natin pabilisan yung proseso ng pag-normalize, particularly decommissioning, disarmament and reintegration of our former rebels. Letter I po is for internal security operations. Now that we believe that we are winding down with our internal security operations, we will have to sustain the gains that we had. So tuloy-tuloy parin po yung pagserbisyo ng ating armed forces, bagamat nagdeklara na po tayo ng insurgency-free yung ibang mga probinsya natin, we will still remain in the area to make sure that there will be no resurgence of insurgency.

Letter T is for territorial defense.

As we wind down doon po sa internal security operations natin, we will not focus on territorial defense. That means we will have to recalibrate our doctrines, our trainings, our organization, in order for us to be able to cope with the demands of defending our territory. For Y, this will be for the youth. We will focus on developing our youth particularly on programs such as the ROTC program. We are anticipating the passing of that bill for the mandatory ROTC. Naghahanda na po ang inyong armed forces and we want to make sure that we will not repeat the mistakes that we had, the abuses that happened during the past when we had the ROTC program. We will now make sure that those who will handle the ROTC are prepared and are professional para wala na po ang mga abuso, katulad ng mga grades for sale, o kaya mga hazing, maltreatment na nangyari po noong nakaraan.

SRH: Considering your 3-year term, you will also have to confront, and hopefully resolve the military pension issue during your watch. As we all know, there has been some reluctance from our uniformed personnel vis-à-vis various proposals to reform their pension system. Paano niyo tingin na kami pong sa Kongreso - ang Senado at ang House - ay best ma-address yung mga concerns na yon at medyo i-ease yung anxieties nung ating mga men and women in uniform.

Gen. Brawner: Doon po sa huling SONA ng ating pangulo, he mentioned about the MUP pension and that his desire is to make it less painful for our retirees and uniformed personnel. Sa amin po naman, we have been doing consultations with our soldiers and even our retirees so that we can get the consensus of everyone and so far as far as the uniformed services are concerned, kami po noh. When I entered the service, meron na po kaming contribution para sa aming pensyon and then it was in the form of RSBS contributions and then later on it was given to GSIS. But then after a few years, it was also terminated.

So, open naman po ang mga sundalo natin to that idea of contributing but doon po sa mga proposals na nilalabas po natin especially with the proposals of our secretary of national defense, Sec. Gilberto Teodoro Jr., he wants the real estate of the AFP to be placed in a trust fund. So that this will be the source of funds for the pension of our soldiers and our retirees. Yun po yung initial na proposal namin but I understand that there are already versions that are coming out from Congress, which of course will be briefed to us in later days.

But as much as possible, ang ginagawa natin sa ating mga sundalo, is we talk to them. Dahil ang mga sundalo naman po natin ay very rational, madaling umintindi ang mga sundalo, and if it is for our country, handa po kaming magsakripisyo.

SRH: Salamat po, General. Interesting yung isang element ng possible consensus yung real estate in relation sa trust fund. Importante din po sa amin dito sa Senado trabahuin ang isang maayos na batas tungkol dito. A couple of general principles that some of us are thinking of ay yung as is where is dun sa mga existing pensions na sa ngayon and then moving forward contributory system sa mga bagong entrants sa ating armed forces. We will continue to rely on the AFP among other institutions makapagbigay po ng inputs at gabay din sa amin sa aming legislative work tungkol dito.

Moving on sa military expenditure naman, partikular sa NTF-ELCAC at saka AFP modernization. General, during a visit to the Southern Luzon Command earlier this month, you said that your principle of UNITY focused on applying the whole-of-nation approach in ensuring internal security and stability in order for the AFP to shift its focus to territorial defense by, among others, modernizing to keep pace with our peers in the region.

However, to modernize efficiently and effectively, we will need to think about our force structure - the people, materiel, and infrastructure our military will need to satisfy the requirements of our national strategy and the exigencies of the current threat environment. Ano po yung thoughts niyo doon sa force structure na kakailanganin natin para makamit ang national security objectives natin?

Gen. Brawner: Because of the advent of new technology in warfare, we will have to also adjust our doctrines and our organization. Because of the arrival of missile systems which will be using to defend our territory from possible external aggression, we will have to create units that will be able to man this modern weapons. In the Philippine army for instance we are proposing for the creation of a missile regiment which will be the one in charge of maintaining and later on if needed firing this weapon systems.

Another aspect that we have to focus on is on cyberwarfare. In the recent chiefs of defense conference that I attended with 24 other countries, one of the emphasis that was given in that conference is the importance of the cyberdomain. Dahil po ngayon hindi lamang land, water, o air domain ang hinaharap natin or ginagalawan natin, but we also have the cyberdomain and I believe that in the cyberdomain we can play equally with the other nations. Kaya po nating lumaban dito. That is why this is one of the focus areas that we are looking into. We are going to develop our cybercommand. Palalakihin po natin yung ating mga cybergroups. May mga cyberunits po yung ating mga major services but we will look at creating a bigger cybercommand and integrating all of these cybergroups that we have in the major services.

SRH: Just this July, the AFP reported a "strategic victory" against NPA insurgents, kaya yung sinabi niyo nga pong kanina na winding down, with 400 of the remaining 1,800 members identified and facing criminal charges. Our armed forces were also able to dismantle the NPA's guerilla fronts, a major blow to their operations.

Given your victories against these internal threats and their diminished numbers, as well as the establishment of the BARMM, binanggit niyo rin po kanina in relation to normalization. We should consider how much utility and value are we receiving from the NTF-ELCAC's ?8.64 billion proposed 2024 budget, considering that they have completed only 2% of their projects as of November 2022.

Ano po yung opinyon ninyo dun sa realignment nung portion ng mga pondong iyon to territorial defense, halimbawa pagdagdag ng funding para sa Philippine Coast Guard o yung buong National Task Force on the West Philippine Sea?

Gen. Brawner: We agree that mahalaga po na bigyan po ng tuon yung ating modernization program but we also have to focus on internal security but we believe that the NTF-ELCAC funds are very important also so that we could sustain the gains that we had in our counterinsurgency operations. Importante ho kasi yung ma-address natin yung root causes of the problem dahil kung hindi po natin gagawin yun, there is a big possibility that insurgency will come back.

So ang mga proyekto pong binibigay natin sa mga barangay, yung BDP, Barangay Development Program, in the past, it was 20 million per barangay, was a big boost to our counterinsurgency effort. Dahil po dito, sa mga programang ito, nabibigyan ng mga clinics, farm to market roads, school buildings, yung mga barangay po na talagang nangangailangan nitong mga ito. I believe that we should strike a balance between funding the NTF-ELCAC and addressing the root causes of insurgency and also putting in funds for our modernization as we shift to territorial defense.

SRH: Alam niyo naman siguro that I fully support the AFP modernization program, tulad namin dito sa kumiteng ito. But also baka alam ninyo mula sa simula may argument talaga ako diyan sa NTF-ELCAC dahil tingin ko po ang mga pondong iyon dapat talaga makarating sa mga identified barangays sa pamamagitan ng DILG at mga line agencies. At ngayon, sa pamamagitan din ng buong NTF- WPS. But we can continue talking about that in the coming years.

Moving on to condemning harassment by the Chinese in the WPS. This month, the senate passed Senate Resolution No. 718 condemning the continued harassment of Filipino fisherfolk and the incursions in the West Philippine Sea by the Chinese Coast Guard and militia vessels, and urging Government to take appropriate action in asserting and securing the Philippines' sovereign rights over our exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, and calling on China to stop her illegal activities in accordance with the UNCLOS and the 2016 Ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration. This has led some observers to argue that there should be a re-calibration or re-alignment of Forces towards external defense, for example, by investing more on the Navy and Air Force, to better safeguard our seas and waters.

Considering the archipelagic nature of our country and the growing the Chinese government's aggressive foreign policy in the South China Sea, and continuing tensions over regional flashpoints like Taiwan, ano po ang thoughts niyo tungkol sa realignment ng ating armed force mula sa current focus on land warfare at counter-insurgency patungo sa higit na force projection sa pagitan ng ating mga isla at maritime zones.

Gen. Brawner: Ang ginagawa po natin ngayon is that we are also trying to look into our strategy and trying to redefine our strategy. Nabanggit po ninyo yung projection. Tama po iyon. Initially, our defense, the concept of our defense is defense in depth, ibig sabihin po, we will defend from our land and also towards our territorial waters and our exclusive economic zone. But this time, we are going to project our forces. So ang ginagawa po natin ngayon is that we are hardening our positions in the islands and the features that we are occupying.

Sa ngayon, meron po tayong maliliit na structures in the islands that we are occupying pero hindi po ito sapat for us to be able to project our forces. And the name of the game dito po sa West Philippine Sea is effective presence. Kung sino po ang marami na nandiyan ay sila po yung may advantage dito. That is why we are seeing so many foreign vessels in the WPS at any given time. Nabanggit ko po sa isang interview that there are more than 400 foreign vessels in the WPS at any given time and yung barko po natin from the Philippines, meron po tayong just a few number of vessels from the Philippine Navy, from the Philippine Coast Guard, from the Bureau of Fisheries at yung ating mga fishermen. Pero talagang napakaliit po ng numbers natin compared to the other countries.

SRH: Huling tanong yungkol doon sa UNITY at mandatory ROTC. Upon your assumption into office, you spoke about the 5 focus areas - summed up as UNITY - that you intend to prioritize as the AFP's Chief of Staff. You were also reported to be in favor the revival of the mandatory ROTC program, saying that "we have to prepare the youth to be able to defend our country in case anything happens."

However, with all due respect, this seems akin to mass conscription, solving our deficiencies in training and equipment with numbers. Now, I know someone who is not a favorite of any of us, Stalin, is attributed as having said that quantity has a quality all its own, but this sounds like we are preparing to fight the last war... and not even something recent like the gulf war, but World War II.

In Ukraine we are getting an unprecedented look at how Gen Z and Gen Alpha are going to wage war - with technology, with remote sensors, with long-range fire, with drones - both on the ground and in cyberspace. For this style of war, that we hopefully we would never need to wage, we will need young people who are tech-savvy, skilled, and highly-motivated; not conscripts mandated to fight, whether they want to or not. As Sun Tzu, who we all much prefer to Stalin, said, without moral factors - the willingness to fight for a cause - it might be difficult to bring a campaign to a successful conclusion.

Now, the purpose of a general staff is to prepare a nation's plans and contingencies for various scenarios. Sa ilalim po ng anong mga scenarios ay kakailanganin natin i-deploy yung ating mga reserve officers na produced ng ROTC program? Gaano karaming value ang nakukuha natin sa mga resources na ginagamit natin sa pag-train ng ROTC cadets na yung iba sa kanila hindi suitable o baka hindi inclined sa military service? How much value are we getting from the resources we are using to train our ROTC cadets kung under sa isang mandatory program, kumpara sa kung gagamitin yung parehong mga resources na yan para i-train pa at i-develop pa ang ating professional soldiers?

Gen. Brawner: We are now trying to develop a ROTC program that is very much different from the ROTC program that we knew when we were students. Dati po kasi, martsa martsa tayo halos buong araw nagmamartsa, meron konting kaalaman sa pagdisassemble, pag-assemble ng baril. This time, we are going to try to professionalize even the ROTC program. Meaning, if a student is enrolled in medical fields for instance, hindi po siya magiging foot soldier, ang training niya will not be on being an infantry man. Rather, ang training nila ay magiging related sa kanilang medical field. Sila po ang magiging medics natin, mga doctors, mga nurses, when their services will be needed during war.

Kasi ngayon yung current numbers ng mga doctors and nurses natin will not be sufficient when there is war. The same is true with our engineering students for instance, so hindi na po sila magiging infantry soldiers as well, they will be trained as combat engineers. They will be building bridges, they will be building our defensive positions and so on. So aside from that, the value that we will be getting from training our youth is that we will be ready to face any challenge, whether manmade or natural. We all know that we face natural disasters, 20 typhoons on the average every year, so pag handa po ang ating mga kabataan, they will be able to help our country when the need arises especially when disasters strike.

Ang isa pong pinaghahandaan natin dito sa Manila is the Big One. Handang handa po ang ating mga rescue units but again they will not be sufficient. Pero kung handa po yung mga ating kabataan yung ating mga mamamayan to deal with these kinds of threats then we will be able to more efficient and capable of mitigating the effects of these natural disasters. Yun po yung focus area ng ating ROTC program, hindi na yung katulad nung dati but we will really prepare our citizens for any eventuality, whether it is manmade or natural.

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