South China Sea, terrorism among Philippine security challenges for 2019
MANILA, Philippines — The South China Sea dispute and terrorism are some of the security challenges that the Philippines will continue to face in 2019, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Tuesday.
“‘Yung South China Sea pa rin. Although all claimants there are status quo muna. Kung saan ka, huwag kang gumalaw. Allow the fishermen of all countries to fish in the area,” he told reporters on the sidelines of New Year’s call at Camp Aguinaldo when asked about the country’s external challenges.
Negotiations for the code of conduct are expected to move forward this year. China had proposed in 2018 that it will be finished in three years’ time.
“We are hoping that the code of conduct will be finished soon dahil ang taning yatang bigay ng China ay three years’ time. Ang sabi ko nga, why so long? Ang tagal na masyado so hopefully we can have a workable or acceptable code in three years,” he said.
Aside from the sea dispute, terrorism will be one of the issues that the security sector will continue to address.
Lorenzana said members of the terrorist group Abu Sayyaf roam around freely in Sulu and blend themselves with the community.
“Nagtatago sila dyan sa Jolo, especially sa Patikul. Ang problema dyan kasi tinatago sila ng mga civilians. The civilians are actually protecting them so whenever our troops will go out hindi nila makita itong mga Abu Sayyaf,” he said.
A “few” foreign terrorists remained in the country, according to the defense chief.
“Meron pa daw kaunti sabi ng MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front). I think there is one na medyo famous na pangalan si Mauwiyah. Kasama daw ng BIFF (Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters),” he said.
Meanwhile, remnants from ISIS-linked Maute Group remain to be a security threat.
Maute Group laid siege to Marawi City for five months in 2017, killing more than 1,000 people and leaving the city to ruins. It was the biggest urban conflict the government had faced in recent years.
“Itong BIFF saka Maute mayroon silang cooperation dyan sa Central Mindanao at saka sa Lanao Sur. That’s why the BIFF is a thing na gusto nating i-address. Kasi kung sino ang mga spoiler ng BOL (Bangsamoro Organic Law), sila ‘yun. Pa-konti ng pa-konti ang tropa nila but still they are a problem,” Lorenzana said.
The plebiscite on January 21 and February 6 will allow voters to decide on the ratification of Bangsamoro law, which seeks to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
The defense chief also cited the BOL and upcoming midterm elections as one of their concerns for the first six months of the year.
“Even after the plebiscite, kung manalo ‘yan, the next step will be how to implement the BOL, ‘yung bagong area. Meron tayong mga decommissioning ng armas nila and disarming of the MILF fighters,” he said.
Moreover, Lorenzana set a new three-year deadline to defeat the New People’s Army.
“If you recall, this has been going for the past 50 years and we can’t end it in one year. So our new target is the end of President Rodrigo Duterte’s presidency,” he said. /kga
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