ARMED Forces chief Gen. Felimon Santos Jr. yesterday ordered an investigation into the claims of Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson that 3,000 members of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) are in the country for “immersion missions.”
Santos directed the military’s intelligence community to validate the statement of Lacson, who is the chairman of Senate committee on national defense.
“We are in the process of validating the report of Sen. Lacson, that being a matter of serious concern. I have (directed) my staff for intelligence to confirm said reports, in coordination with other relevant agencies of government,” Santos said.
On Wednesday, Lacson said he has received information from a reliable source that about 2,000 to 3,000 PLA personnel are in the Philippines for “immersion missions” and for other still unknown purposes.
Lacson admitted that his information has yet to be validated, but insisted that his source was “fairly reliable.”
A senior military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, acknowledged the presence of PLA personnel in the country, but said Lacson’s 3,000 figure was an “exaggeration.”
The source said PLA members and Chinese intelligence operatives in the country “run in hundreds and they use legitimate covers like (pretending to be) businessmen, media, academe, tourists.”
“Our estimate of their operatives here will be just hundreds. Maybe 300 at the most,” the source said.
“I don’t know the source of sir Ping but any country that will undertake a foreign intelligence operations will not deploy that so much number of operatives. That is very dangerous because that large number of operatives will lead to very high risk of compromise,” the source added.
The source also said that if China wants information from the Philippines, “they will leverage their advantage in cyber warfare, hacking, which (has) less exposure and personal risk on their part than deploying that large number of operatives.”
The source, however, noted that PLA members are not specifically trained for foreign intelligence operations.
“China has their Ministry of State Security that specializes on foreign intelligence and espionage, though some members are recruited from PLA. So the 3,000 PLA is improbable,” he said, adding: “Whoever provided that information to sir Ping is just making a wild guess and not really basing on actual and verified intelligence information.”
The official likewise said the “immersion mission” mentioned by Lacson is a pre-World War II concept, which means “forward deploying your soldiers to a country that you intend to invade.”
He said troops on immersion mission pose as civilians who would wear uniforms and serve as advance teams when there is an actual war, citing the case of the Japanese armed forces during the World War II.
“Will China invade us in the near future? And their mission is to recon and gather intelligence on military and other strategic targets? With the current military doctrine, practices and technology, they need not deploy many people (here),” he said.
“To gather intelligence, you deploy small teams and maximize use of technology in order to minimize personal risks, compromise, and embarrassments, international scandal,” he added.