Thursday, September 1, 2011

Think-tank cites PH commitment to upgrade its territorial defense

By Roy Mabasa
Manila Bulletin, Wednesday, August 31, 2011

MANILA, Philippines — A United States (US)-based think-tank Wednesday said that US officials can learn two important lessons from the enthusiasm generated by the recent introduction of the Philippine Navy’s newest flagship, the BRP Gregorio del Pilar, which was acquired through the US Foreign Military Sales program.

Robert Warshaw, Research Assistant in the Asian Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation, said that firstly, the Philippines is fully committed to improving its territorial defense.

Secondly, he said, the US–Philippines alliance remains extremely relevant in preserving stability across the Asia-Pacific.

Warshaw stressed that US policymakers would do well to heed the recommendations raised by The Heritage Foundation, as contained in its report, “US–Philippines Partnership in the Cause of Maritime Defense,” released early August.

He said that beyond the pressing need to fully fund its own Navy, the US should prioritize the Philippines to receive excess defense articles.

“The fanfare that greeted a Vietnam War–era Coast Guard vessel should remind the Pentagon that the Philippines operates an aging fleet of less than 80 ships; therefore, any excess ships would have a tremendous effect on ensuring regional stability,” Warshaw stated in his paper, “US Ship for Philippines a Good Start, But Much More to Be Done.”

He said the US should also explore various lend-lease programs to provide the Philippines’ armed forces with the hardware it needs to maintain a sufficient defense capability.

In continuing to provide the Philippines with the means to protect its territorial integrity, the US should ensure that the alliance can continue to flourish for the next 60 years, Warshaw said.

“The US should continue to offer support to the Philippines by reaffirming our mutual defense obligations and ensuring freedom of navigation across the region,” he said.

Last week, President Benigno Aquino III personally welcomed the arrival of BRP Gregorio del Pilar at Pier 13 of the South Harbor in Manila.

President Aquino said the docking of the 378-foot Hamilton class cutter represents the renewed strength of the country’s Armed Forces towards protecting its coastlines and assets.

In his speech during the welcoming ceremony, the President also assured the Armed Forces of the Philippines that the government will not stop in the acquisition of ships, helicopters and patrol crafts.

The BRP Gregorio del Pilar replaced the Raja Humabon, a Cannon-class destroyer escort, which is probably one of the world’s oldest warships.

Warshaw said the changeover in flagships points to the Philippines’ urgent need for maritime defense capability. “It has to start its modernization somewhere, and developing an ability to regularly patrol Philippine-claimed waters in the South China Sea is the best place to start,” he said.

Warshaw pointed out that “despite historically dedicating its security policies toward countering domestic separatism, President Aquino’s government now realizes the danger posed by continued Chinese adventurism in the South China Sea.”

He claimed that since February, Chinese military vessels on several occasions have allegedly harassed Philippine fishing boats and energy survey ships in waters “mere miles from Philippine territory.”

“President Aquino, in unveiling his new flagship before his state visit to Beijing is sending a message to Beijing that the Philippines is ready to protect its own shores,” he added.

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