ASEAN KEY DESTINATIONS
Aquino pledges stronger defense of sea claims
Philippine President Benigno Aquino on Tuesday vowed a stronger military defense of the country’s West Philippine Sea claims as the Philippine Navy’s newest warship sailed into Manila Bay from the United States.
“This ship symbolizes our newly acquired ability to guard, protect, and, if necessary, fight for the interests of our country,” President Aquino said as the refurbished Hamilton-class cutter Gregorio del Pilar dropped anchor.
“This is just the beginning. Expect more good news because we will not stop at one ship,” the President added.
He revealed during a chance interview that among the modern military equipment to be acquired include surface attack craft, air defense radars, long-range patrol aircraft and close-air support aircraft for the Philippine Air Force; strategic sealift vessels, offshore patrol vessels and naval helicopters for the Philippine Navy; and assault rifles, helmets, bullet-proof vests and night-fighting equipment for the Philippine Army.
Mr. Aquino said that the former US Coast Guard cutter, which the Navy said was turned into a “patrol frigate,” would protect the Philippine archipelago’s exclusive economic zone and its oil and gas activities in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
Many of those areas are claimed by China, which insists that it has sovereign rights to almost all of the South China Sea, even waters approaching the coasts of Southeast Asian countries.
Other parts of the sea, which are reputedly rich in mineral resources and straddle vital sea lanes, are also claimed in whole or in part by Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam.
The competing claims have for decades made the sea one of Asia’s most dangerous potential military flashpoints, and tensions flared this year after the Philippines and Vietnam accused China of becoming increasingly aggressive.
The Philippines said that the Chinese Navy had fired warning volleys at Filipino fishermen in the West Philippine Sea, harassed an oil exploration vessel and put up markers on Philippine islets.
As the row escalated, it appealed to long-time ally the United States for help in beefing up its poorly-equipped military, with Mr. Aquino saying that his country could not contain China on its own.
The Philippine Navy has a tiny, old and poorly equipped fleet, with its flagship vessel a World War II-era destroyer that it acquired from the United States decades ago.
The Gregorio del Pilar is a 115-meter (378-foot) vessel with a helicopter flight deck and a retractable hangar.
The Gregorio del Pilar will be deployed by the Naval Forces West to also carry out drug and migrant interdictions, law enforcement and search-and-rescue operations.
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