Learning from Korea

On invitation from the ROK Ministry of Foreign Affairs, former DILG Sec Rafael M Alunan and I took on a very enlightening journey to revisit the Republic of Korea and review anew the various conditions and characteristics that surround the tremendous progress and development of that great country. The visit was arranged by ROK Ambassador to the PH Kim Jae Shin and Taekwondo Kukkiwon Chairman Hong Sung Chon.

I have known Raffy Alunan since he was Tourism Secretary during the Cory Aquino administration. I first met him when Corregidor Foundation Inc. (CFI) Executive Director Col Alfredo Xerxes Burgos invited me to join Alunan (who as the Tourism Secretary chaired the CFI Board), who was on his first visit to Corregidor in 1991. I was helping Col Burgos with the development of Corregidor and he wanted to highlight the things we did together during the Tourism Secretary’s visit, thus we showed him the Corregidor Lighthouse which was under renovation, the VTS radar then being installed on the lighthouse tower, which had been replaced by a steel tower holding the solar powered system just placed there, the PCG Search and Rescue Station that was constructed downside, and the Hiking Trail being cleared by us.

Welcome to Seoul

I suggested the Hiking Trail to Col Burgos not only to provide such for visitors especially those checked in at the Corregidor Lodge operated by the CFI, but to make it easy for security guards to patrol isolated areas on the perimeter. Weeks earlier, CFI Security got reports of treasure hunters on the island but could not locate them, and asked us to help. We did a land and amphibious operation and found an abandoned cave on the southwest rim of a cliff, with 2 sacks of rice, some digging tools and a portable generator left by treasure hunters who escaped during the search. To clear the foliage and overgrowth was tedious so I did it with sufficient manpower, using it as an excuse to conduct a PCG Special Warfare Group training exercise, augmented by trainees of the Coast Guard Training Center. But I digress.

Early in April 2017, Alunan texted and asked me if I could join a visit to South Korea. I called him and he told me that the ROK Ambassador had invited him to visit South Korea on 25-29 May and that he was given a free hand to choose two others. Of course, I was delighted and readily agreed to join.

At Hyundai Shipbuilding

My first visit to Korea was in a military conference in 1979 together with MG Ignacio I Paz, Col Leopoldo S Acot PAF (who would 13 years later be CG, PAF) and Maj Angelo T Reyes PA (who would much later be CG, PA in 1998 and AFP Chief of Staff in 1999) where we saw the large newly-discovered tunnel dug by the North Koreans. The second visit was during the 1989 World Taekwondo Championships where we sent some AFP participants. The third was in an ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) EEP Conference in Cheju Island in 2006 as the lone PH participant. Each visit gave me a favorable impression on the progress and growth of ROK, so I expected that this trip would have similar results.

Included in the Delegation was VAdm Alexander P Pama, former PN FOIC and former Director General of the NDRMMC, who unfortunately begged off at the last minute because he had a medical issue, albeit mild, that required continuous medical observation in the first 2 days of the trip. Fortunately, our Ambassador in Seoul, Raul T Hernandez was able to join us on the first day but could not make it for the rest of the schedule.

Alunan’s objectives for the visit reflected his keen strategic insights and vision:

Politico-security matters on the Korean Peninsula, the South China Sea, security alliance concerns, PH foreign policy, PH internal security issues, PH credible deterrence direction, supplier-client risk management, and ROK urban public safety and security systems.

The first day was a look at how the Metropolitan Police handles peace, order, emergency management, including traffic control and enforcement in Seoul, hosted by Chief Supt. Gen. Kim, Jung Hoon, Supt. Gen. Hur Kyung Ryul, and Dir. Sr. Supt. Lee, In Sang. It shows that with a well-equipped, well-trained professional police force, you can handle traffic management, criminal law enforcement, and emergency management in an extremely efficient manner. They are real guardians of law and order.

One thing we noted also is the use of army reservists as police auxiliary, including in traffic management. It is particularly apt for the Republic of Korea, as their citizens have obligatory military service of two years. After about a year of orientation and training, they can be idle and a good way to occupy them is through use in emergency and disaster management, and as police auxiliary. This might be a sound practice the AFP could emulate.

We have had experience in this: After the training of volunteer PHILCAG troops, they were used for search and retrieval after the 1-August-1968 Ruby Tower Collapse as a result of the Magnitude 7.3 Casiguran earthquake, where some 270 people were killed and an approximately equal number injured (various reports gave different numbers for the dead and injured). It was quite a good exposure as most of the volunteers were army engineers, although the work they would do in Vietnam was just a bit more hazardous. Moreover, it was the tragedy that resulted in the creation of the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC), now the NDRRMC.

In the afternoon, we had discussions at lunch with Korean Council of Foreign Relations (KCFR) Chairman Han Tae Kyu, former ROK Foreign Minister Myung Hwan Yu and MOFA Second Secretary Chung Wook Yung where we discussed various political and security issues to include the situation on the Korean Peninsula and East and Southeast Asia and the intentions of China and the United States. This lunch meeting was followed by a visit to the Lotte Group, a major Korean food conglomerate that owns a majority stake of Pepsi Cola Product Philippines. We called on Lotte Chilsung Beverage President Young Goo Lee. Lotte is considering expanding its investments in the Philippines related to hospitality and tourism. The visit was capped off through a tour of the 123-storey Lotte World Seoul Sky Building, the 4th tallest in the world, completed just last year. We had a magnificent 360-degree bird’s eye view of the city.

In the evening, we were hosted for dinner by MOFA Dep. Dir-Gen for East Asia and Pacific Affairs Kim Eun Young together with Second Secretary Chung Wook Yun.

On Saturday (27th), we visited the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) along the 38th Parallel as guests of the U.N. Joint Commission at the Joint Security Area (JSA). We were briefed on the history of the war and the armistice and related incidents. Two blue buildings in the DMZ extended to North Korea, and were the only places visitors or residents of South Korea can enter Nokor territory (and vice versa), which we did (with photos to show). We exchanged shots through windows with Nokor soldiers outside the building (they used cameras; we used mobile phones).

On the third day (28th), we dropped by our embassy to bid goodbye and express our thanks before departing by train for Ulsan and meet with Amb. Raul Hernandez, Con Gen Christopher de Jesus, DAFA Col. Francis Lardizabal and Anthony Cornista, Protocol Officer and Attaché.

From there we visited the PEFTOK Memorial, built to honor the troops sent by the first Asian country to join the Korean War in support of the ROK (I was there in my 1979 visit), after which we had a lunch meeting with Mr Lee Dong-gy, Director, MOFA, SEA Division and foreign policy academicians Prof Sa-Myung Park PhD, Chair Board of Regents, KISEAS; Korea U Prof Jae Hyeok Shin, Director, KACDC; Mokpo National U Prof. Seok Joon Hong PhD; Yonsei U Asst Prof. Kim Hyung Jong PhD, and Yonsei U Asst Prof Sang Kook Lee. We discussed various issues on the Korean Peninsula, prospects of continued peace and development, the political situation in East Asia, major power rivalries and the South China Sea/WPS. They seem quite interested to learn and exchange views but generally constrained by some limitation in the English language.

From there we toured the Korean War Museum but due to time constraint, we just proceeded to the PEFTOK section wherein we saw memorabilia of Lt Fidel V Ramos and the 2nd BCT (his uniform, pistol, cap and photos and equipment of the battalion). In the war, we sent a total of 7,420 troops from 19-September-1950 to May, 1955 wherein we had 112 KIA and 229 wounded.

From the War Memorial, we proceeded to the train station at Gimpo for the “bullet train” trip to Ulsan, near Busan. It was excellent, though fortunately not as fast as the Shinkansen so it enabled us to view the beautiful, serene and ecologically enchanting countryside. If not for the unfortunate Philippine demographic growth, this could probably be the same sight to behold on the PNR.

The second (and final leg) of the visit was to view the industrial might of ROK. Our two interests were shipbuilding and aerospace, and indeed we got the best there is to see: Hyundai Heavy Industries (primarily the shipyards) and Korean Aerospace Industries (KAI).

Hyundai Heavy Industries (Ulsan)

We were met, briefed and escorted around the tightly secured the tightly secured facility by Mr K.Y. Sung, Sr. GM, Special and Naval Shipbuilding Division and Mr Jae Rak Kim, Sr. Sales Officer. We were given a briefing on the history of the Hyundai group, from its humble beginnings to its future growth to be the largest conglomerate in ROK and development to be the prime mover of South Korea’s growth. Today, ROK is the top shipbuilding nation and Hyundai the no. 1 shipbuilding company in the world. Based on a wealth of capabilities and experience, HHI has delivered more than 2,200 ships all over the world. On naval shipbuilding:

  • HHI Special & Naval Shipbuilding Division (SNSD) is dedicated to naval and special shipbuilding
  • SNSD delivered first Ulsan-class frigate in 1980
  • Plays a pivotal role in the fleet modernization of ROKN
  • 2 of the 11 HHI drydock and 1 ship lift for SNSD.

Key SNSD products:

  • Surface warship products: HDD series (Destroyer); HDF series (Frigate); HDC series (Corvette). HDP series (Patrol);
  • Naval Auxiliary products: HAD series (Logistics support);
  • HDL series (Amphibious vessel), HDM series (mine laying), HDT series (Training); and
  • Submarines: HDS series (3000, 1800, 500, 400 ton).

The Philippine Navy has become a serious customer and this should be pursued, to further go into the submarine area and in co-production using a PH shipyard, above all.

Korean Aerospace Industries (Saechon)

We were met, briefed and escorted by KAI Sr. Exec. VP and GM BGen Kim In Sik, ROKAF (ret.) and 2 Sr. Mgrs of the KAI. Business Dev. Team Jake Jaehong Kim, and Choi Byung Sam. Security was even tighter in this highly technical facility but we had certain pictorials with the staff. The fast pace of development of KAI is indeed impressive. We got to view the last two of the 12 KAI FA-50 jet fighters ordered by the PAF, being prepared for the flight to PH within 2 days.

The KAI presentation shows its development, growth and the usual corporate aspects – company description, revenue and growth (with 4,920 employees, including 1,500 in-house engineers), major programs (fixed wing, rotary wing, modification and maintenance, aero structures and aerospace). The second presentation covers proposals for PAF-KAI customer-supplier relations, to include the KAI program history and field operations and most specifically, the KAI F-50PH Program.

Our take away from the various discussions during the 4-day visit are summed up by Mr Alunan:

  • A military solution to counter Kim Jong Un is not a viable option. Regime change initiated within NoKor is the most acceptable option although the probability of that happening is low at this point. More sanctions, negotiations, defiance and tensions should be expected.
  • The lack of U.S. resolve in the South China Sea. Freedom of navigation operations have proven ineffective so far. China has been taking full advantage of the situation. Security relationships are being adjusted and calibrated.
  • ISIS or Islamist terrorism is not a security risk factor in ROK. Questions were raised about the efficacy of martial law and the country’s strategy to contain and defeat the problems of drugs and terror to protect our economic gains and boost investor confidence.
  • The idea of dispersing ROK’s strategic industries to other parts of the region as a safety and security measure against a hot conflict on the peninsula was tabled for discussion.
  • Should ROK’s shipyards and aerospace industry be destroyed by NoKor, it would cripple our Navy and Air Force and would be unable to find spare parts to repair and maintain the combat assets we’re acquiring from ROK for credible deterrence.

The PH and ROK have common denominators in their security environment – the U.S., China, Russia and Japan. The conduct of diplomacy must be given careful attention.

The development of heavy industries, shipbuilding and aerospace industry must be given utmost priority by the Philippines. Competitiveness of such PH industries rely heavily on energy and marketability of the products. In the absence of sufficient consumer purchasing power, incentives must be provided to lower the cost of production and loan amortization in the case of ship owners in addition to the energy dimension.

In the next visit of the KAI executives in the Philippines, we hope to promote possible linkage with the Philippine Aerospace Development Corporation (PADC) for exchange of information, and perhaps some kind of cooperation.

A formal linkage between the Korean Council for Foreign Relations and the Philippine Council for Foreign Relations is also highly recommended.

Our gratitude extends to the ROK Ambassador to the PH Kim Jae Shin and Taekwondo Kukkiwon Chairman Hong Sung Chon for arranging the invitation by ROK’s MOFA. We were privileged to be given a free hand to customize our agenda. We likewise thank Ms. Julie Lee, our most efficient charming guide provided by MOFA.