#KYR: Philippines - MilitaryBy The Cove October 4, 2021
The ‘Know Your Region’ series is designed to support unit and individual professional military education on the South East Asian region. It’s important for all serving members of our military to have a foundational knowledge of the countries and issues in the Indo-Pacific.
PHILIPPINES – MILITARY
On this page:
- Military Capability
- Intelligence Agencies
- US Alliance and Cooperation
The Philippine President is the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and shapes military policy through the Department of National Defence, while the AFP Chief of Staff serves as the overall commander and the highest-ranking officer. The AFP has around 130,000 active service personnel split across three branches: the Philippine Army, Philippine Air Force, and the Philippine Navy. The Army ground force is estimated at 90,000 soldiers and is backed by 120,000 ready reserves. The Air Force has an estimated 17,000 personnel and operates 203 aircraft. The Navy has around 25,000 members, including approximately 8,000 marines. It operates 81 combat ships, 12 auxiliary ships, 25 aircraft, and 8 unmanned aerial vehicles. Additionally, while the Philippine Coast Guard is an armed and uniformed service normally under the Department of Transportation, it would be attached to the AFP in wartime.
The AFP is equipped with a mix of imported weapons systems, mostly second-hand equipment from the United States. Since 2014 its other top weapons suppliers are Indonesia and South Korea. Supplemental military purchases come from China and Russia. The Philippines military budget remains consistently low, making up only 1% of the GDP in 2020 which is half the global average. See Global Fire Power’s breakdown of the Philippines Military Strength for more detail.
In the early 2000s, the voluntary military forces underwent modernisation efforts. The Philippine Defence Reform (PDR) Program was announced by former US and Filipino leaders as a multi-year jointly funded endeavour. However, the PDR Program ended in late June 2016 because the upcoming Duterte administration was not seeking its renewal. Currently, the AFP’s primary operational focus is on internal security duties. Particularly in the south of the archipelago, with 60% of the armed forces deployed to counter the operations of several insurgent and terrorist groups.
Civilian security is handled by the Philippine National Police (PNP) under the Department of the Interior and Local Government. They have an active role in counter-insurgency operations alongside the AFP, particularly the PNP commando unit – the Special Action Force – that specialises in counter-terrorism operations.
For further information on the AFP’s capability and history see the following sources:
- Miltary Defense | How Powerful is Philippines? Philippines Military Power 2019
- The Front | The Deadly & Forgotten Filipino Guerrillas that made the Invading Japanese pay in Blood [WW2]
- The Front | How these Brave Filipinos Somehow Beat 40 to 1 Odds in the Battle of Yultong [Korean War]
- Al Jazeera | Why Philippines is building military base near Taiwan
- Free Documentary | Toughest Training: Special Forces Philippines
The Philippines has several intelligence organisations but there is minimal information available on these agencies. Most is known about the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA), it is the primary intelligence gathering and analysis arm of the Government, in charge of carrying out overt, covert, and clandestine intelligence programs. With the motto Kaalaman ay Kaligtasan (Intelligence is Security), NICA’s role and authority has steadily strengthened under successive administrations.
NICA will continue to carry out its mandate to be 'the focal point for the direction, coordination and integration of government activities involving intelligence, and the preparation of intelligence estimates of local and foreign situations for the formulation of national policies decided on by the President. In early July 2020, President Duterte signed the broad Anti-Terrorism Act aimed at addressing violent extremism and terrorism with tougher measures. Another tool in Duterte’s 'whole of nation approach' to address the roots of insurgency in the Philippines. While there is domestic public support for this hard security policy, local and international human rights groups have condemned it for unwarranted aggression, discriminate targeting, and being counter-intuitive to the peace process.
There is also the Department of Justice’s principal intelligence-gathering organisation, the National Bureau of Investigation (which was modelled after the US Federal Bureau of Investigation as well as the Department of National Defence’s extensive intelligence apparatus), and features the Intelligence Service of the AFP (ISAFP). Little is publicly revealed about its organisation but there are units operating through the archipelago.
For more information on the impact of this hard security approach see the articles below.
- Philippine Star | The whole-of-nation approach
- Philippine News Agency | ‘Whole of Nation’ approach nets 18,433 rebels: PH Army
- Philippine Star | Evolving security threats
- International Affairs | The Philippines’ New Anti-Terrorism Law Closes the Space for Peacebuilding
- The Diplomat | How Dutertes Anti-Terror Law Unleashed Public Outrage Against His Leadership
U.S. Alliance and Cooperation
The Philippines has considered itself a staunch ally of the United States and has supported many prongs of the superpower’s foreign policy. The Mutual Defence Treaty between the Philippines and the United States was signed in 1951, later supplemented with the Visiting Forces Agreement in 1999. The Philippines supported American policies during the Cold War, participated in the Korean and Vietnam wars, and were involved in the War on Terror operations in the Iraq War. Speaking to this support in October 2003, former US President George W. Bush praised the Philippines as a bastion of democracy in the east and called Manila 'America’s oldest ally in Asia'.
On 28 April 2014, both governments executed an Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) to establish the parameters of contemporary military cooperation. The Philippine Government can invite United States forces to use designated facilities but stops short of a permanent US military presence. One element of the bargain is that the Philippines is barred from possessing nuclear weapons. The bilateral EDCA is in place until 2024 when it can be terminated by either party with one-year’s notice.
The Philippines has a long affiliation with the United States, covering economics, social, and especially security relations. Yet, Manila’s ties with Washington have weakened at President Duterte’s behest, who stated that the Philippines will no longer participate in any US-led wars. Nevertheless, security cooperation is anchored in a long history, and US President Biden is committed to defending the Philippines.
This is a three-part documentary series on the Philippine Campaign during World War II created by the US Army University Press:
- Defence of the Philippines, 1941
- Surrender of the Philippines, 1942
- Liberation of Manila, 1945 [Warning: graphic content]
For further information on the status of the US-Philippines military alliance see the resources below:
- The Diplomat | Analyzing the US-Philippines Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement
- CFR | Backgrounder: The U.S.-Philippines Defense Alliance
- ASPI | A reprieve for the US-Philippines military alliance
- CSIS | Hard Choices: The U.S. Alliance with the Philippines
- CFR – ‘Duterte Terminates the Visiting Forces Agreement … or Does He?’
- Al Jazeera | Duterte restores Philippines’ key military agreement with US
- The AFP maintains a significant number of major equipment assets that are out of date and unsuitable for current operational requirements. Based on their geographical and current issues in their region, what should the Philippines focus on acquiring in order to enhance their military capability? What opportunities might this present to Australian Defence Industry and the Australian military for partnering?
- The AFP’s primary focus is internal security duties, specifically in the southern island groups. With increased territorial disputes in the South China Sea, will the AFP be able to deal with all the issues facing the nation? What should they do in order to manage all current and potential threats? What role might Australia play in this?
- The Philippines has traditionally relied on a strong alliance with the US for its defence needs. Should they look to build a greater level of self-sufficiency in their armed forces in light of increased Chinese ambition? Is it possible that the Philippines will look to build stronger military relations with China, even against US opposition to such a move?
- Australian and Filipino military relations have been enhanced through Australian support to AFP operations against insurgent groups in the nation’s south. What else could Australia and the Philippines do to increase the bilateral military relationship? What mutual threats and issues will likely require military response over the next decade?