07 August 2013

Pres Aquino welcomes arrival of warship in Subic

Subic Bay, Zambales (Reuters) - The Philippines' second warship arrived in Subic Bay on Tuesday (August 6), augmenting the country's naval forces to protect its territorial borders near the South China Sea.

President Benigno Aquino III and senior defense officials watched as the frigate, BRP Ramon Alcaraz, a Hamilton-class high endurance cutter and the newest ship of the Philippine Navy, sailed into Subic Bay after its two month voyage from the United States.

"With the arrival of the BRP Alcaraz, we can strengthen our patrols in our Philippine exclusive economic zone, combat any bad elements, provide support in search and rescue operations and protect our marine resources," Aquino said.

The newly acquired warship will be docked in Subic Bay, the former US Navy base 50 kilometers (30 miles) northwest of Manila, where it will be repainted before joining its sister ship on patrols.

The cutter, along with its sister ship acquired by the Philippines in 2011, were donations from its defence treaty ally, the United States, through the excess defence articles (EDA) under which Washington provides old equipment no longer in active use. But $25 million was spent to refurbish them.

The United States is the Philippines' oldest security ally and has been assisting in upgrading Manila's military capabilities to combat terrorist threats and protect its territorial borders.

Until the early 1990s, US troops operated from two large military bases in the Philippines, providing a security umbrella in the country's decades of fighting against Maoist and Muslim insurgents.

There are now plans to allow Washington wider access to civilian and military bases to help its former colony enhance its defense capability.

The Philippines, along with Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and China, are embroiled in disputes over territory in the nearby South China Sea, potentially rich in oil and gas and criss-crossed by crucial shipping lanes.
The South China Sea has become Asia's biggest potential military flashpoint as Beijing's sovereignty claim over the huge area has set it against Vietnam and the Philippines, as the three countries race to tap possibly huge oil reserves believed to lie under the seabed.

The BRP Ramon Alcaraz docks at Subic (Still photo taken from a Reuters TV clip)