Esperon: PH not at war with China so imminent threats are insurgency, pandemic
MANILA, Philippines—The pandemic and the insurgency presented more imminent security threats to the Philippines than that being foisted by China’s aggressive behavior in the West Philippine Sea, according to National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. on Tuesday (Nov. 3).
Esperon, armed forces chief of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, said while he was not belittling the external threat from China, it was not as imminent as the internal security threat from the insurgency and COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m not saying the external threat is smaller than the internal threat,” he said in Filipino. “What I’m saying is that there is an external threat but that’s not complete yet,” he said at an online press briefing after the Senate hearing on red-tagging allegedly by the military.
At the hearing, opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros questioned the government’s focus on insurgency but lack of highlight on the security risks from China.
She cited a news report quoting retired general Emmanuel Bautista, armed forces chief during the administration of former President Benigno Aquino III, as saying China was likely to invade the Philippines should war break out between the United States and China.
“Is this not a more imminent and more compelling threat?” Hontiveros said at the hearing.
At his press briefing, Esperon said a conflict with China was a remote possibility. Several Chinese intrusions into Philippine waters have been confirmed by the military and protested by the Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs but the encroachments continue.
“Is our relations with China to be considered war?” Esperon said. “I don’t think so,” he added.
He said the Philippines’ relations with China has economic, social and cultural dimensions.
“We benefit from China as a market and we are getting projects,” Esperon said. “We are not at war with China. The President is handling it very well,” he said.
Esperon said the pandemic was a clear and present danger but the insurgency is also a prominent threat.
The insurgency, he said, was the “number 1 political security threat.”
The New People’s Army, he said, was getting directive from its “mastermind” Communist Party of the Philippines. The objective, he said, was to “bring down the Philippines’ democratic way and replace it with what is known as centralized democracy.
At the Senate, Esperon was joined by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Interior Secretary Eduardo Ano, National Intelligence Coordinating Agency chief Director General Alex Monteagudo, Armed Forces chief Gen. Gilbert Gapay and controversial Southern Luzon Command chief Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr.
The officials, with some supposed former NPA cadres, detailed the alleged recruitment process of the underground communist movement and its connection with groups like the Makabayan bloc of House members.
Members of the bloc, all representing party-list groups, have long denied ties with communist rebels and were absent at the hearing. Leaders of the bloc said they did not want to be used to red-tag members of progressive groups, which could put their lives at risk.
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