National Security Adviser Eduardo Año underscored on Friday the strategic shift in national defense policy and highlighted the role of the civilian arm of the government, notably the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), in the defense and protection of the country’s maritime territories in the West Philippine Sea.
Año made the remark on December 1 as he led the inauguration of the PCG station on Pag-asa Island, Kalayaan town, the Philippines’ stronghold in the disputed region.
Año, having previously served as the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), reflected that his perspective at the time focused on the belief that “strong presence of our soldiers, regular aerial patrols by our aircraft, and the unwavering presence of our naval ships would only be the way forward in advancing our national security and safeguarding our sovereignty and sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).”
When he assumed the role of National Security Adviser and Chairman of the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF WPS), however, he noted that his mindset underwent a change.
“I have undergone a significant transformation in my approach to tackling the security challenges posed by a more dominant and assertive nation,” he said.
“My understanding has been greatly influenced by my interactions with various government sectors and the diverse stakeholders involved in navigating the challenges in the WPS,” he added.
Año expressed that his current role has broadened his perspective, offering a “thorough grasp of the significant risks associated with the WPS and the potential perils of depending exclusively on military strategies.”
He conceded that mere military responses fall short against China’s extensive WPS strategy, which includes disseminating misleading information to incite unrest among Filipinos.
“This kind of strategy cannot be effectively countered through military means alone but rather requires a holistic approach involving all sectors of our nation. It is critical for us to convey a powerful and united message that counters their falsehoods and eventually unites our fellow Filipinos in this important issue,” he stated.
He further observed that recent government initiatives have been effective, leading to increased awareness among Filipinos, especially following the laser-pointing incident involving China Coast Guard and PCG vessels.
Since then, Año said the PCG has been crucial in delivering accurate information to the Filipino people, thereby raising awareness about China’s aggressive actions in the disputed waters.
The previous years’ lack of transparency led Filipinos to doubt the harassment directed by China towards Filipino fishermen in the WPS, as well as towards military personnel carrying out legitimate rotational and resupply missions for Filipino soldiers in the area.
He emphasized that the effectiveness of this increased transparency is evident, as it has led to tangible actions from Congress, including the allocation of additional funds to agencies actively engaged in the West Philippine Sea efforts.
“By this measure, we can proudly declare that our transparency initiative has been remarkably successful. In addition, some of the bills and reforms we have been pushing for the advancement and strengthening of efforts in the WPS have slowly gained traction from our legislators, thus gaining wider support and greater appreciation from the populace,” he said.
Año recognized the personnel of PCG, especially those involved in WPS missions.
“Their unwavering commitment ensures that both the international community and the Filipino people are aware of the bullying and aggression they face from the much larger and more capable vessels of the China Coast Guard,” he said.
“The brave personnel of the PCG demonstrate unwavering dedication, never hesitating or growing weary in their patrols, despite knowing that they will face harassment and potentially put their lives at risk. Their commitment to safeguarding our waters is truly commendable,” he added.
He likewise lauded military personnel assigned in different stations for their vigilance and indomitable display of Filipino spirit of gallantry and loyalty to the country.
Meanwhile, Año also stated that the establishment of the PCG station “reflects the evolution of our approach in this area, teaching us that other agencies also have crucial roles to play—equally important with our uniformed personnel.”
Aside from the new PCG station, the UP Marine Science Institute also has a new research facility on the island, which Año described as a demonstration of “collaborative effort and shared commitment towards our goal as a nation in terms of developing and protecting the WPS,” adding that it will have a significant impact on the government’s transparency initiative.
With Año were Sec. Andres Cereno, PHILSA Director General Joel Joseph Marciano, NSC Deputy Director General Nestor Herico, DOE Undersecretary Giovanni Carlo Bacordo, Usec. Ceferino Rodolfo, Usec. Elmer Francisco Sarmiento, NSC Assistant Director General Jonathan Malaya, NSC Assistant Director General Cornelio Valencia Jr., PCO Assistant Sec. Michel Andre Del Rosario, PCG commandant Admiral Ronnie Gil Gavan, PCG Vice Adm. Lizor Punzalan Jr., and others.