To my fellow workers in the Department of National Defense:

As the year 2019 comes to a close, let me express my thanks and gratitude to the men and women of the Department for the work we have done together to accomplish our mission. The dedication of the military and uniformed personnel of the Department is manifested in the excellent accomplishments for the year, significantly contributing to the peace and stability in the whole country.

With the National Defense Strategy as our guide, we have pursued the protection of our people and ensured our sovereignty and territorial integrity.

We have established a permanent presence in our northernmost island, Mavulis, by hoisting our flag, constructing a Fishermen’s shelter and permanently stationing a Marine contingent on the island. We shall also station more marines in the outlying islands in the Babuyan channel.

We are also actively working with Malaysia and Indonesia under the Trilateral Cooperative Arrangement on Immediate Measures to Address Security Issues in the Maritime Areas of Common Concern in the Sulu and Celebes Seas. This collaboration has decreased the kidnappings in those areas to almost nil in the past two years.

We have also continued to pursue defense cooperation with the other ASEAN members, other partner-countries, and non-traditional partner-countries to promote Philippine Defense interests, generate opportunities for capability and capacity building, and attain stability and progress as well as the protection of a rules-based international order. Our partner-countries are also assisting us to improve our defense capabilities by making available their defense materiel to the AFP Modernization Program.

We have heightened our internal security operations this year, aligned with the President’s agenda to end local communist armed conflict and other terrorist activities. In 2019, Task Force Balik-Loob, headed by Undersecretary for Civil, Veterans and Retiree Affairs Reynaldo B. Mapagu, has extended the government’s support to former NPA rebels through various government programs provided by member- and partner-agencies of the Task Force. The Armed Forces of the Philippines, likewise, continues to serve the needs of affected communities through the Community Support Program.

The Department is on the forefront in the implementation of Executive Order No. 70, which became the framework of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC). The NTF-ELCAC institutionalizes the Whole-of-Nation Approach to end the local communist armed conflict and places the burden of security and development on the LGUs supported by all the national agencies of the government. The main objective of the TF is the promotion and establishment of good governance down to the barangay level.

As head of the Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP) and Amnesty Program and the Peace, Law Enforcement, and Development Support (PLEDS) Lines of Effort (LOEs), the Department was active not only in neutralizing the armed component of the CPP/NPA, but more importantly giving support to former rebels who returned to the fold of the law.

Moreover, the whole Department, through Department Circular No. 13, has been directed to support the efforts not only for our LOEs, but also those of other departments and agencies. We have also created a DND NTF-ELCAC Core Group, headed by Undersecretary of National Defense Cardozo M. Luna, to monitor how all LOEs are implementing their programs.

Further, as Cabinet Officer for Regional Development and Security (CORDS) to the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), I am delighted to report that the DND is instrumental in the ongoing establishment of the Regional Task Force (RTF) – ELCAC, designed to address the peculiarities of the BARMM region with the end-goal of eliminating terrorists that have plagued the region for decades, and establish a peaceful environment that is conducive to economic and social development.

As the implementor of Martial Law in Mindanao, I commend the Armed Forces of the Philippines for its excellent efforts to attain the objectives of martial law. The AFP was successful in decimating and weakening the terrorist and extremist groups in the BARMM. I have directed the AFP to continue to hunt down the remnants of the Maute, BIFFG and Abu Sayaff groups or to accept their surrendering members for rehabilitation.

The DND has been actively participating in the efforts to sustain the gains of peace-building, such as the Normalization Track of the peace accord with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), wherein the decommissioning of MILF combatants and their firearms were undertaken in September 2019.

Furthermore, the 2000 Peace Agreement with the Rebolusyonaryong Partido ng Manggagawa ng Pilipinas-Revolutionary Proletarian Army-Alex Boncayao Brigade Tabara Paduano Group (RPM-P/RPA/ABB TPG) has made significant progress when the latter signed the Clarificatory Implementing Document in July 2019 with the Government of the Republic of the Philippines represented by Undersecretary for Defense Operations Cesar B. Yano as the chairperson of the Joint Enforcement and Monitoring Committee (JEMC).

Through the Office of Civil Defense (OCD) and the AFP, the Department has provided timely and continuous intervention in provinces ravaged by natural disasters, namely, typhoons, floods and earthquakes. The Regional OCD offices are the nuclei of government rehabilitation and rescue efforts in the provinces.

In addition, the Department has invested resources in ensuring the welfare of its active personnel as well as retired soldiers through its welfare programs provided by the Philippine Veterans Affairs Office (PVAO), the Veterans Memorial Medical Center (VMMC), and the respective human resource offices of the DND-wide offices and bureaus. Among the milestones in 2019 are: the increase in benefits for active military personnel under the Joint Resolution No. 1, s. 2018; the release of Hazardous Duty Pay to soldiers in Sulu; the increase of benefits of the CAFGU Active Auxiliary (CAFGU); and benefits to wounded soldiers and families of soldiers killed during active duty under the Comprehensive Social Benefits Program (CSBP).

The AFP was deputized during the Elections in May 2019, and together with the Philippine National Police and other law enforcement agencies, ensured free, honest, orderly, peaceful and credible elections.

The DND and its bureaus provided security and rescue forces during the 2019 Southeast Asian Games, which was held in the Philippines. Additionally, 160 soldier-athletes and coaches participated in the games and earned 26 gold, 15 silver, and 13 bronze for a total of 54 medals.

With its continuing effort to improve management and systems, the DND Offices and Bureaus have strived to meet international standards. Under this program they have achieved certification under the ISO 9001-2015.

We have likewise collaborated with other agencies to improve our facilities through the Convergence Program on Strengthening and Expanding Military Readiness for National Security and Development, also known as Tatag ng Imprastraktura para sa Kapayapaan at Seguridad (TIKAS) program. For 2019, thirty (30) projects amounting to PhP530 million were approved for implementation. For 2020, PhP4.6 billion has been allocated for the DND-DPWH Convergence Program in the National Expenditure Program The projects include construction, repair, and/or development of a runways, roads, road networks, army detachments and PAF hangars.

As the year 2019 comes to a close and 2020 starts, I call upon all personnel of the Department to continue to pursue excellence in public service. The call to a more effective and efficient Defense Sector is imperative in light of the enormous and varied security challenges confronting the nation.

In 2020, let us strive to achieve the following:  Have our priority legislations passed; expand our relations with partners who share our vision of a strong and effective Defense Department; and pursue efforts that would lead to the attainment our objectives. Together, let us continue to deliver the service every Filipino deserves with utmost professionalism and dedication.

Mabuhay.