At Davos, Ferdinand Marcos Jr told the World Economic Forum there was no point for his administration to spend billions of pesos to upgrade the Armed Forces of the Philippines’s capability.

Marcos might be trying to stress his administration’s independent foreign policy and that the Philippines won’t take sides in the competing interests of the United States and China.

The Philippines will be a friend to all and an enemy to none. Previous administrations have been trying to distance from the two superpowers despite an existing military alliance with Washington.

Rodrigo Duterte’s effort to align the Philippines with China and Russia, two archrivals of the United States, had failed as Filipinos are fiercely loyal to the Americans and distrust the Chinese and Russians.

Marcos’s statements reverberated like a magnitude 7 earthquake in Manila. What does the president want to do in the face of rising threats from China in the South China Sea?

The president wanted to project himself as a statesman at an international forum but it might cost him his political capital at home. He risks alienating the military, which has remained the glue that holds the country together during a political crisis.

Marcos may have missed the point why the Armed Forces has embarked on an ambitious modernization program, spending P500 billion in the first two phases of a 15-year capability upgrade program.

The Philippines is not trying to compete with the United States and China in the dangerous arms race in the region. It is trying to build a modest credible defense posture.

The Philippines wanted to develop a defense posture that could sting any outside power that would attempt to attack the country. Any country would hesitate to attack because the Philippines would have the ability to strike back. It might not win the war but the Philippines would make sure it would be a costly conflict for any hostile country.

The Philippines had one of the most advanced militaries in the 1950s and 1960s. But it deteriorated during the 20-year rule of the president’s father, the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr.

The dictator transformed the military into his own private army to go after his political opponents and critics. He completely relied on the United States for the country’s external defense posture.

He did not invest in modern warships and fighters. He focused on internal security, fighting twin insurgencies from the Communist guerrillas and Muslim secessionist rebels in Mindanao.

When the Americans were kicked out of their two large overseas bases in Subic and Clark in 1992, the Philippines was exposed. It had nothing to defend itself with.

There were no air defense radars, no real fighters to intercept aircraft intruding into its airspace, and no ocean-going warships that could stay in the open sea for a week.

It took some time for the military to discover a Chinese makeshift shelter on a half-submerged Mischief Reef in the Spratlys. It was accidentally discovered by an air force pilot on a routine patrol in the area. There were no ships patrolling the area during the harsh monsoon season.

It has a fleet of World War II vintage navy ships, some from the South Vietnam Navy that escaped to Subic after the fall of Saigon. It also has a fleet of second-hand utility helicopters and a few 1960 vintage F-5 fighters.

Lawmakers, who voted to terminate the 1947 Military Bases Agreement, promised to fund a P150-billion modernization program but allocated only P50 billion that never came.

The real military upgrade program took off only during the time of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. The late Benigno Aquino enacted the second 15-year, three-phase P300-billion modernization program in 2012, acquiring trainer jets and strategic sealift vessels. He started the guided-missile frigate program.

Rodrigo Duterte continued the frenzied military acquisition program, overspending in six years. Duterte committed nearly P500 billion in equipment acquisition but spent only less than P200 billion.

At the start of Marcos Jr’s term, the defense department said it would review the acquisition plan and spend on the more urgent equipment, like missiles, fighters, corvettes, and offshore patrol vessels and attack and combat utility helicopters.

But after the president’s talk at WEF, the defense department remained silent on whether it would still pursue an ambitious capability upgrade, including the acquisition of two diesel-electric submarines.

Indonesia had bought from the United States a squadron of F15 fighters and armed drones from Turkey. Armed drones were effective in recent wars in Azerbaijan and in Ukraine.

The major states in Southeast Asia have conventional submarines, guided-missile frigates, and heavy armored vehicles. Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand have the most advanced military in the region, making the Philippine military inferior.

If the president decides to pause the military modernization, it will set back the Philippines’s timetable to develop a modest credible defense posture.

The Philippines cannot totally depend on its allies to protect its national sovereignty. Marcos Jr must learn from the mistakes of his father. He had stoked some restlessness in the officer corps’ ranks by reinstating a retiring chief of staff.

The military’s morale was deeply affected by Marcos’s misstep in the promotion and assignment of senior officers. A decision to slow down on the capability upgrade could further demoralize the military.

Of course, Marcos Jr could not afford a restive military. He could end up like his father — toppled by disgruntled military.