Monday, October 31, 2011

Environmental change: A new threat to national survival and the importance of a citizen armed forces

One of the major national security issues that face the Philippines and neighbouring countries is massive environmental changes that can cause the displacement of hundreds of thousands if not millions of citizens. As of this writing, metropolitan Bangkok is now being innundated by massive monsoon floods and the engineering interventions made by the Thai government in the last 20 years of rapid economic development are proving of very little use. The Prime Minister of Thailand  Ms Yingluck Shinawatra, has to call on the Thai armed forces to offer relief and rescue. Like the Philippines, the massive evacuation of thousands of citizens is a logistical challenge that will tax the capacity of the government of Thailand. However the Kingdom of Thailand is in a much better position to respond. Why?

The Armed forces of the ASEAN countries have seen improvements in training, equipment and recruitment. These countries armed forces have enough strength to call in times of national environmental emergency. One factor is that political threats to the ASEAN countries have been neutralized by reforms in society. This was  made possible by rapid economic growth and a nuanced and calculated approach to democratic reform. The ASEAN nations did not reject democratic reforms per se as misconstrued by 'democratic" Philippines, democratic reforms were nuanced in the context of these countries' political cultures all of which were affected by European and American imperialism.

The information I have says that Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia Indonesia, laos and, Vietnam have compulsory military service for citizens 18 years old and above (Laos conscripts men and women at 15 years of age). Indonesia does not have the draft but its constitution authorizes the President to call for one if there is a national emergency. Thailand has a random draft call. Vietnam has national service. Singapore and Malaysia have a continuous call for national service.  The Philippines is the only one among this list that does not have compulsary national service.

The value of national service is that the armed services can identify suitable men and women for recruitment into the professional armed services. A larger proportion may serve in the reserves while the rest will serve in their repective civilian roles. I have blogged about the problems that the AFP have now because of national service being downgraded and will encounter if the ROTC is made mandatory once more.

One end result of our national service policy is that the average age of the Filipino soldier is in his/her late 30s, ( A Marine officer told me it is around 37) hardly the best age  at which  to respond to national emergencies such as environmental catastrophe. This compounded with an ill equipped AFP and if the defence pundits are correct, slipping training standards (which may have led to recent casualties) makes it unlikely that the AFP can adequately respond to environmental emergencies.

Personally, I have seen this since I do environmental work with some services of the AFP.

The truth is that the professional armed forces can never be enough to respond to these emergencies. Since these emergencies are of the civil kind, only a well equipped and trained citizen armed forces can adequately fill the need. Sadly with the "killing" of ROTC by a reactive Congress and the Arroyo administration, there are hardly any cadets who can respond to the needs of citizens in these situations. We have seen it in typhoon Ondoy in 2009 where ROTC cadets could have filled in on certain relief operations that are suited to their level of training.

The great earthquake and tsunami in Japan last March 2011 is particularly instructive. A large majority of Japanese citizens (77%) view the Japan Self Defense Forces (JSDF) as essential to responding to disasters and other environmental catastrophes. While the rationale of General MacArthur in allowing the establishment of the JSDF is for national security in the Cold War era, a significantly less percentage of Japanese citizens (60%) see it that way. Thus the training of the JSDF has focused on this aspect aside from its external defence functions. As a result of the pacifist Japanese constitution, the JSDF is legally a civilian service and thus can be considered as a citizen army.

The JSDF is the first armed service in history where almost all of the authorized strength was mobilized by the Prime Minister of Japan to serve in disaster relief.

Here is the official blurb:

" The JSDF began its search and rescue and relief operation only hours after the earthquake and tsunami.  On March 13, Prime Minister Naoto Kan ordered the mobilization of 100,000 JSDF personnel.  As of March 17, approximately 76,000 JSDF troops had been deployed from JSDF bases throughout Japan and are engaged in activities such as search, rescue and recovery and the transport and distribution of relief supplies.  In addition, 10,000 reserves have been called up for the first time. 

This is an extraordinary experience for the JSDF in many ways.  For one, the mobilization of 100,000 personnel - or as many as 180,000 when counting logistical support - is the largest-scale mobilization of the JSDF since World War II."

The JSDF is Asia's best equipped armed force. The Prime Minister of Japan as Commander-in-Chief of the Japanese armed services was able to mobilize the JSDF within two days.

If such an event happens in the Philippines, I do not think the Armed Forces of the Philippines can respond in such magnitude since the AFP has been historically underfunded and given the cultural traits of Filipino society when faced with national crises, a citizen army is essential in maintaining order. History documents that upon the withdrawal of the American forces from Manila during the Japanese invasion in 1941, public order broke down almost immediately.

The sure thing is that such an event will happen and the only thing the Philippines can do is to prepare its citizens. The nation needs a strong citizen army to guarantee its national survival.

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