National Security Policy 2023: Ambitious, Deceptive and Repressive
Renato M. Reyes, Jr.
President, BAYAN

Like its predecessors, the current Philippine National Security Policy is intended to promote the core interests of the ruling elite and preserve the oppressive status quo, while outlining how the State plans to address threats to national security. This is the third iteration of the NSP beginning with the Aquino regime’s theme of “Securing the Gains of Democracy” which was then followed by the Duterte regime’s “Change and Well-being of the Filipino People”. As with previous NSP’s, the current version is heavily inspired by the US counter-insurgency doctrine in its use of the “whole of nation approach” in countering all forms of “security threats”.

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The NSP tackles traditional security issues such as national sovereignty, territorial integrity, peace and public safety. It also places issues such as poverty, food, climate change, health/pandemic, transportation, information and energy as national security concerns. The broad concept of security tends to place social and economic issues under the ambit of the security sector, opening them to military intervention. All government agencies are thus ordered to adopt the NSP and to “integrate and harmonize the NSP with their own plans, programs and strategies.” All government agencies and instrumentalities are expected to encourage all sectors of society to implement the NSP.

The new NSP complements the medium-term Philippine Development Plan 2023-2028 which seeks to lead the Philippines towards a long-term vision of being a “predominantly middle class society” by 2040. This appears to be a recurring “vision” for the government, starting with the “Philippines 2000” mantra of the Ramos regime which promised that the Philippines would transform into a “Newly-Industrialized Country” (NIC) by the new millennium. We are still not a newly-industrialized country nor are we poised to become “predominantly middle-class” with single-digit poverty rates.

National security is defined in the NSP as “a state or condition wherein the people’s welfare, well-being, ways of life; government and its institutions; territorial integrity; sovereignty; and core values are protected and enhanced.” The document makes mention of “enduring values” such as love of god, patriotism, social justice, rule of law and respect for human rights, democracy and freedom.

While the document does tackle extensively the global and regional security environment and challenges, the NSP continues to advocate the same internal security strategies that have led to widespread human rights violations and the failure to address the roots of the armed conflict.

What hasn’t changed

There is no change in the way the Philippine government conducts its counter-insurgency operations. The NSP reaffirms the role of the NTF-ELCAC in counter-insurgency and praises its “achievements” despite its bloody rights record under the Duterte regime. This alone is telling as it signals the continuation of the government’s campaign of repression against the people and against all forms of dissent. Oblivious to the local and international condemnation of red-tagging, the Marcos regime doubled down on this policy by saying that “the Government shall strengthen its action against the legal fronts of the CPP-NPA-NDF to stop recruitment, cut financial sources, and debunk their propaganda.”

The NSP still adheres to the premise that poverty and underdevelopment are the results of armed conflict. It looks at “peace” only as a necessary condition for development but does not see peace as the result of social justice and genuine development. It does not frame the armed conflict as the consequence of underdevelopment, exploitation as well as foreign domination.

The NSP does not seek to address the roots of the armed conflict and merely makes references to “social and economic inequities” insofar as these fuel “communist propaganda”. The NSP likewise pays lip-service to human rights and international humanitarian law, almost to a laughable extent because of the continuing human rights violations taking place in the countryside. Indeed, how can the Philippine government claim with a straight face that it deals with security threats “in strict observance of civil and human rights, and the international humanitarian law (IHL)” when activists and revolutionaries are being abducted or executed and civilians are forced to “surrender” as armed rebels?
The NSP belittles and oversimplifies the problem of armed conflict so it can justify a militarist approach sprinkled with the occasional government tokenism. The NSP does not seek to achieve a just peace, a condition that is the result of genuine pro-people development and the full realization of human rights and democracy.

While it claims that “the Peace process will always be preferred over war”, the Marcos regime makes no mention of continuing the stalled peace negotiations with the NDFP, towards forging a long-term peace agreement with the armed revolutionary forces. Instead, the peace process is reduced to “localized peace talks” , which has meant forcing civilians to “surrender” and pose as rebels before the media in exchange for grocery packs and the promise of livelihood programs.

For the Marcos regime, the only thing left to do now are “measures and programs towards the reintegration and transformation” including socio-economic intervention, for those who have”surrendered” and returned to the fold. What exactly this entails, and how development and transformation will take place, is not really clear. There is the usual mention of access to education, health services and social protection but nary a word on what kind of economic programs are being offered to get the people out of poverty. The armed conflict in the countryside is rooted in landlessness and rural poverty, yet there is zero mention of land reform in NSP’s efforts to address the roots of the insurgency.

The NSP says that “there is also a necessity for the government to transition the internal security operations (ISO) from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to the Philippine National Police (PNP) to allow the AFP to effectively protect the country’s territories and boundaries.” This is not new as even the Ramos administration said that the insurgency has become a peace and order problem that is supposedly handled by the PNP. We should ask why thirty years hence and the insurgency has not been reduced to a mere police problem.

Mirroring US national security strategy

With regards to external security, the NSP hews closely to the US National Security Strategy, often echoing the same framing that US uses vis-a-vis its rivals. It mirrors the “democracy vs authoritarianism” trope of the US government. It sees the current international situation as the result of the conflict between “Western democracies” and new powers “who are out to challenge the current global order”. It shares the US vision of a “free, open, prosperous, and secure world” with an almost identical vision of a “free, peaceful, prosperous, and rules-based international order.”

As expected, the NSP reaffirms the Mutual Defense Treaty and joint US-PH military exercises as crucial elements of external defense. This is despite the glaring fact that the AFP has not modernized and achieved a credible external defense posture despite decades of the MDT, US bases, US military exercises and nearly 10 years of EDCA. The Philippines’ ambition is to be a “middle power” in a multipolar world, according to the document. “Middle powers” have considerable economic and military capacity relative to their neighbors. How the Philippines will reach that level, the NSP does not say.

The NSP then tries very hard to paint a rosy global picture filled with opportunity for the Filipino people, with outlandish assertions such as “the world has entered an exciting new era of prosperity and fresh opportunities” with globalization and technology driving “global economic productivity to new heights, creating more wealth and enhancing the quality of life everywhere.” Even the World Bank in 2022 disagrees with such an assessment as it predicts that the world is unlikely to end extreme poverty by 2030. “Global inequalities are in bad shape and mostly do not appear to be getting better,” according to the World Inequality Report of 2022.

What the NSP tries to do here is sell to the public the alleged benefits of “globalization” and the neoliberal economic dogma. In the process, the security sector will remain committed to protecting foreign and domestic business interests including foreign investments, destructive large-scale mining, foreign agribusiness, foreign debt-funded infrastructure and the like.
It is important for the people to challenge the false premises held in the NSP and to point out the continuing human rights violations and fascist terror committed by the Philippine State.

It is also important for the people to fight for a just peace that is anchored on national sovereignty, pro-people development, human rights and democracy. The question is always “for whom?” National security in defense of narrow elite interests is not security for the people neither is it security for the nation. It is merely a form of organized robbery maintained through systemic repression. ###


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