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Philippine president rallies troops in face of sea dispute
Publication Date : 28-05-2014
Philippine President Aquino on Tuesday paid a “meaningful” visit to a strategic naval station here, rallying the troops in the face of the country’s territorial dispute with China.
With the BRP Ramon Alcaraz warship and four other Philippine vessels serving as backdrop on Ulugan Bay, the President declared his full confidence in the Navy, which was celebrating its 116th anniversary.
“I have confidence in your decisions because the Armed Forces is steadfast—always dependable in performing its sworn duty to protect the people and the Constitution,” Aquino said in a speech in Filipino.
Holding the anniversary rites at the headquarters of the Naval Forces West (Navforwest) in the Naval Station Carlito Cunanan (NSCC) was “meaningful,” the President said, noting that the facility was the Navy’s “primary operational command guarding the West Philippine Sea.”
Forefront of defence
Navforwest was “at the forefront of our territorial defence operations in the Kalayaan Group,” Aquino said.
On the eve of the President’s Palawan trip, Vietnam accused a Chinese vessel of ramming and sinking a Vietnamese fishing boat in a disputed portion of the South China Sea.
Aquino said he was still waiting for confirmation of the alleged incident. But he said he was “alarmed” at the “developments” in waters off Paracel Islands where Beijing had deployed an oil rig, along with a large number of vessels, to loud protests from Vietnam.
“Of course, we’re monitoring everything that is happening there. We’re getting the right lessons and the Armed Forces, Coast Guard and other concerned agencies are studying [the matter]. We’re looking at possible scenarios and [determining] our appropriate response,” he said.
Located at Barangay (village) Macarascas, the NSCC is just 174 nautical miles from the disputed Ayungin Shoal where a stranded Navy vessel is serving as a makeshift military outpost.
But the President appeared to pull his punches when he was asked later what message the Philippines was sending to China by seeming to offer the naval station as a possible “agreed location” for United States troops as part of the Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement (Edca) with Washington.
“It’s not that everything I do is related to China,” he told reporters. “It is in furtherance of our interest rather than in anticipation of anybody else’s acts.”
“This is our closest geographical facility to an area where we have a lot of interest. And instead of delaying the ability of our forces to respond to anything, be it a man-made or a natural disaster, then it is logical to put them in a position where they can address the particular issue at the soonest possible time. So that’s the basic issue,” Aquino explained.
The President talked proudly of the Navforwest command center’s “improved capability,” saying it would further reinforce the strategic naval station.
He cited the command center’s new capability to monitor the weather and track vessels within 30 kilometers. It also now boasts a “downlink sytem and a satellite-based maritime surveillance system” for better sea patrol.
Also shown to the President during the “capability demonstration” was the new video teleconferencing system linking Navforwest to the Navy headquarters and other units.
“All these changes are part of our larger strategy to meet the objectives of our Philippine Navy,” he said.
The President spent a good part of his speech paying tribute to the men and women of the Navy, honoring in particular the troops that are regularly rotated to man the BRP Sierra Madre at the Ayungin Shoal.
He awarded the Distinguished Navy Cross to Lt. Ferdinand Gato, Lt. (j.g) Sherwin Bulahan and Lt. Col. Rodel Martires. Lt. Jovy Iringan got the Distinguished Aviation Cross while T/Sgt. Olegario Paredes received the Bronze Cross Medal.
“I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to our Naval Forces West, to each of you who devote your talent and skills to ensure the welfare of our seas and our archipelago,” he said.
“The public may not witness your sacrifices often but you still continue to serve the country,” he added.