US President Barack Obama on Tuesday pledged two ships for the Philippine Navy, as part of its maritime security to the Philippines, a longtime ally.
“The US intends to transfer two additional vessels for the Philippines: a research vessel to help map territorial service and a coast guard cutter to bolster the Navy’s conduct of long maritime patrols,” he said in speech that lasted about two minutes after his visit to the BRP Gregorio del Pilar, the Philippine Navy’s flagship at Pier 13 in Manila.
More capable navies and partnerships with the United States are critical for the security of this region.
The Philippine warship was formerly a US Coast Guard cutter that was acquired by the Philippines in 2011. For about four decades, it was known as USCG Hamilton.
“It was a symbolic choice as it was the first to be donated or granted to the Philippines during his time as President of the United States,” said Philippine Fleet chief Rear Admiral Leopoldo Alano.
It was also the same ship that figured in a standoff with China in 2012 in Scarborough Shoal (Panatag Shoal) in the South China Sea, known to the Philippines as West Philippine Sea. Since then, tensions continued between the two countries over the disputed waterway.
As to when the ships would arrive, Alano said it would depend on the transfer of documents.
“Usually it would take about six, eight months until the approval of both the President of the Philippines and the United States,” he said, hoping it would arrive before the end of President Benigno Aquino III’s term.
The ships will be acquired through the Excess Defense Articles program, the same as Del Pilar.
China has sweeping claims in the South China Sea including the areas claimed by the Philippines. It asserted its maritime claims by building artificial islands in seven reefs: Johnson Reef (Mabini Reef), Cuarteron Reef (Calderon Reef), Gaven Reef (Burgos Reef), Fiery Cross Reef (Kagitingan Reef), Chigua Reef (Keenan Reef), Subi Reef (Zamora Reef) and Mischief Reef (Panganiban Reef).
The Philippines, meanwhile, filed an arbitration case in a United Nations-backed court in The Hague in the Netherlands. Recently, the same court ruled that it has jurisdiction over the case. Hearings will be set later this month.
The Philippines occupies nine areas in the South China Sea: Pag-asa Island (Thitu), Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal), Patag (Flat Island), Rizal Reef (Commodore), Lawak Island (Nanshan), Panata Island (Lankiam Cay), Likas Island (West York), Kota Island (Loita), Pugad Island (Northeast Cay).
Prior his short address, Obama met Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Armed Forces chief Gen. Hernando Iriberri, Philippine Fleet Commander Rear Admiral Leopoldo Alano and other defense military officials aboard the BRP del Pilar.
Obama reiterated the United States’ “ironclad commitment” to help the Philippines.
“The United States has been committed to the security of this region for more than 70 years. We have treaty obligation, ironclad commitment to the defense our ally, the Philippines,” he said.
The US President is in Manila for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit. But the United States earlier said that the South China Sea would be a “central issue” during Obama’s time in Asia.
“Our visit here underscores our shared commitment to the security of waters of this region and freedom of navigation,” he said.
The US has repeatedly said it does not take sides on the dispute but insists on the freedom of navigation.
The US has recently deployed a guided missile destroyer and B-53 bomber planes to patrol the South China Sea as part of its commitment to freedom of navigation.
Obama traveled from Turkey for the G-20 summit and will be in Malaysia for another regional summit after his Manila visit.
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