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Incoming Philippines Defense Minister: Fighting Terrorism More Important Than Confronting China

June 29, 2016 (EIRNS)—On Wednesday, a day before taking office, the incoming Philippine Defense Minister, Gen. (ret.) Delfin Lorenzana, said that crushing Islamist militants in the Philippines will take precedence over territorial disputes in the South China Sea, and spending on military hardware would reflect that.

Ongoing kidnappings and the recent beheading of Western hostages by Abu Sayyaf rebels, who have sworn allegience to ISIS, were hurting the country’s reputation, and incoming President Rodrigo Duterte was frustrated by the failure to rein in the group, Lorenzana told Reuters. ISIS released a video last week calling on Southeast Asian Muslims to go to the southern Philippines to fight with Abu Sayyaf, as a target for a new "caliphate".

Lorenzana said the military would invest in more speed boats and helicopters to help flush out the group based on southern Jolo island, rather than divert funds into maritime security regarding territorial claims with China in the South China Sea. He said the defense budget should be winning security at home rather than buying fighter jets to protect its waters, as the Philippines would not be going to war with any country. However, he said sovereignty is still a key issue.

"We cannot ignore the West Philippine Sea [South China Sea] because that is in our mandate," he said. "It’s both a resource and a sovereignty issue.

"Our focus will be the Abu Sayyaf issue," Loenzana said. "Next will be to support the police in their all-out war against crime and drugs."

Last week, President-to-be Rodrigo Dueterte and his economic team gave an overview of the proposed 10-point agenda of his economic plans in a two-day forum, where he highlighted the importance of Chinese investment. He called for China’s assistance in constructing railways, telling Filipino businessmen, "Can you match the offer? Because if you cannot match the offer, I will accept the goodwill of China."

Since China introduced the Belt and Road idea, it has yet to launch substantial collaboration with the Philippines. The inauguration of Duterte will provide a critical opportunity to implement the grand vision in this nation.

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