Marcos: PH needs ‘well-trained’ army

President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. visits the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) 9th Infantry Division at Camp Elias Angeles and delivers a talk to troops on March 16, 2023. Photo from Presidential Communications Office

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(UPDATE) PRESIDENT Ferdinand Marcos Jr. wants a “well-trained” military to deal with external threats that are becoming “more complicated and more difficult” as tensions continue to mount between Manila and Beijing over conflicting claims in the South China Sea.

Addressing the troops from the Army’s 9th Infantry Division (ID) in Camp Elias Angeles in Pili, Camarines Sur, on Thursday, the President said the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) must prioritize its mission to guard the country’s maritime territory.

He said guarding the contested waters, which are close to Camp Elias Angeles, is the 9th ID’s new mission.

The row between the Philippines and China over the South China Sea has been escalating, and Manila has filed numerous diplomatic protests against the intrusion of Chinese ships in its territorial waters.

Beijing claims about 80 percent of the strategic sea lane by virtue of “historical rights.”

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In a meeting last January in Beijing, Marcos urged Chinese President Xi Jinping to establish a direct line with Manila to avoid “miscalculations and miscommunications” that could worsen the situation in the waterway.

Despite the protests, Chinese vessels continued to sail inside the Philippines’ 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ), confronting naval and coast guard ships.

Last month, a Chinese vessel beamed a military-grade laser at a Philippine Coast Guard ship.

“What is becoming more complicated and more difficult are the external threats that we are facing,” Marcos said.

“We have to have a sophisticated and well-trained military, and I can say that we have been working very hard to [achieve that goal],” he said.

The President reiterated his promise to upgrade the AFP’s defense capabilities.

“For a long while, hindi natin dini-develop ang capabilities ng ating mga military. Nagkukulang tayo sa equipment (we had not developed the military’s capabilities. We lacked equipment),” he said.

Despite the shortcomings, Marcos said Filipino soldiers were capable and well-prepared and pledged that his administration will support them.

“Nagbago na lahat ‘yan (Things have changed). We in the civilian government are determined to make sure that when we ask you to do your duty, that then you are fully prepared, you are fully trained, and you are complete in the equipment that you need to fulfill that mission,” he said.

“I have always said that of all the sectors of society, it is only the military that has never let the Filipino [people] down,” the President said.