Oct 052013

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OYSTER BAY, Palawan, Philippines—At Naval Forces West headquarters here, the wooden planks that are the main platform of the Philippine Navy’s sole naval shipyard facing the West Philippine Sea are breaking apart and starting to surrender to the elements.

The planks have cracks and gaps wide enough to send a full-sized man straight into the clear blue waters below.

The crew of a naval supply ship, which was chanced upon by the Inquirer while visiting the facility on Friday, was loading up for a routine run to the Kalayaan Islands in the disputed Spratlys island chain and knew enough to be careful.

Recently, the Philippine government dusted off old plans to develop Oyster Bay, a picturesque cove nestled in old growth mangrove forests and limestone cliffs in the western flank of Palawan’s central region.

Defense officials are hopeful the decades-old plans to upgrade the naval facility into a major shipyard and naval facility will finally move. The  Oyster Bay development plans come as tensions are increasing over China’s aggressive assertion of ownership over the entire South China Sea, including parts of what the country calls the West Philippine Sea.

There has been an initial P500 million released to complete some major infrastructure components, including a 12-kilometer access road from the mainland.

“We call this a capability upgrade,” said Commodore Joseph Rostum Peña, commander of Naval Forces West (Navforwest).

Once completed, the facility would have an extended wharf to accommodate “at least four large naval vessels,” he said.

He cautiously avoided a conversation on the South China Sea conflict.

Peña said part of Navforwest’s capability upgrade would come from the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ modernization program. This include the installation of high-powered radar systems in strategic areas from north to south of Palawan facing the West Philippine Sea. The radar systems would allow them to closely monitor developments in the disputed areas of the Spratlys.

“The coastal watch program should allow us eventually to monitor our seas in real time,” Peña said.

At least four of these stations that form part of the radar network have already been upgraded, according to Peña.

He said they were hoping to add more radar stations, including one in the Sulu Sea to specifically watch over the Tubbataha Reefs, a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco)-designated marine protected area.

Armando Lustre, head of Lustre Construction that won a Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH)-administered contract to complete the 12-km road from the village of Macarascas to Oyster Bay, said they had begun the road work and were expecting additional funding for the third and final phase of the road development plan for the area.

Peña likened the Oyster Bay facility to “a mini Subic” once completed. Like the former US naval facility in Zambales, the bay has  physical characteristics that can host large warships.

“It is also ideal as a base for our Marines. It has vast jungles suitable for training,” Peña said.

Peña declined to comment on the suitability of Oyster Bay for use by  US naval ships under a new bilateral defense agreement that would allow the United States access to Philippine military bases, saying only that their facility would be “suitable for large warships.”

This US return to the country is part of its pivot to the Asia Pacific, a form of temporary basing in nations in the region.

The development of Oyster Bay has encountered resistance from the local community.

Around 10 years ago when the Philippine Navy began developing Oyster Bay and its naval reservation, all the villages around it rejected the facility, expressing this in a referendum conducted by the city government.

But Jane Villarin, a village council representive of Macarascas which hosts the newly transferred Navforwest headquarters believes the objections had been assuaged.

“I don’t think the community will resist the development of the naval base … we are used to them now,” she said.

Sep 122013
Binay supports order for Roxas to lead in the relocation of illegal settlers

President Benigno S. Aquino III converses with Vice President Jejomar Binay during the 115th Anniversary of the Philippine Navy at the Commodore Posadas Wharf, Headquarters, Naval Sea Systems Command in Naval Station Pascual Ledesma, Fort San Felipe, Cavite City on Tuesday (May 21). At present, the Philippine Navy is a force of 26,000 personnel composed of sailors, marines and civilian employees. (MNS photo) MANILA, Sept. 9 (Mabuhay) – The Office of the Vice President (OVP) on Monday assured members of the House of Representatives that they fully support President Benigno S. Aquino III instructions to Interior and Local Government Sec. Manuel Roxas II to lead in the relocation of informal settler. This was assured by Lawyer Benjamin Martinez, chief of staff of Vice President Jejomar Binay who leads the budget presentation of the Office of the Vice President. The OVP is asking for the approval of P417.296 million budget for 2014, an increase of measly P721,000 from P416,575 million for 2013. Last Friday, Roxas was grilled by UNA Secretary General and Navotas Rep. Toby Tiangco during a congressional budget hearing over the role of the DILG in implementing housing projects for informal settlers. Tiangco claimed that Roxas already encroached the power of National Housing Authority (NHA) who is mandated by law to be the lead agency of the government to build government shelters. NHA is under Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board (HLURB) which is under the direct supervision of Vice President Binay. But Roxas was quick to explained that Read More …

Aug 062013
Aquino: New Navy ship boosts PH defense in sea row

By Frances Mangosing, Kristine Angeli SabilloINQUIRER.net 2:57 pm | Tuesday, August 6th, 2013 The BRP Ramon Alcaraz is the second Hamilton-class cutter that was acquired by the Philippine Navy under the Foreign Military Sales Program of the United States. US EMBASSY PHOTO RELEASE SUBIC BAY, Philippines – President Benigno Aquino III on Tuesday said the acquisition of a second warship by the Philippines will boost the Navy’s ability to patrol and defend the country’s waters. Aquino expressed confidence that the BRP Alcaraz, the “newest and modern ship” the country has acquired, will fulfill the government’s aim to have an Armed Forces capable of defending the country and the Filipino people. “Now that the BRP Alcaraz is here, it will definitely boost our patrols around the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone and our ability to quell threats and dangerous elements, respond to search and rescue operations, and needs of our marine resources,” Aquino said in Filipino as he welcomed the arrival of the 45-year-old former US Coast Guard Hamilton-class cutter at the Alava Wharf here. Aquino recounted the ship’s “historic and symbolic” journey from the United States, passing through Pearl Harbor and Guam, and the heroes behind this journey. It is in this light that the President challenged the troops of the Philippine Navy to live up to the courage exemplified by those who lived before them. “So this is my challenge to the Philippine Navy and to the troops that will be on this ship: Live up to the courage and Read More …

Aug 032013
Navy: BRP Ramon Alcaraz now anchored at Subic Bay

PHL’s new warship sails along Aurora coast . The BRP Ramon Alcaraz sails off the coast of Aurora province on Friday, August 2, after it entered the Philippine Area of Responsibility on Thursday. Filipino fishermen greeted the crew as it journeyed for Subic Bay. The 115-meter Hamilton-class cutter of the Philippine Navy is expected to be welcomed by President Benigno Aquino II on August 4. Ronald Leander The BRP Ramon Alcaraz, the Philippine Navy’s second warship, is now anchored at Subic Bay after a two-month journey from the United States, the Philippine Navy said Sunday. In a radio interview, Philippine Navy spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Gregory Fabic said the ship docked at about 7 a.m. Sunday. “Nakaankla ang Alcaraz sa Subic Bay, nag-a-undergo siya ng quarantine Immigration and Customs procedures,” he said in an interview on dzBB radio. He said the vessel’s crew members, which include 14 officers under Capt. Ernesto Baldovino and 74 enlisted personnel, are in high spirits. Fabic said the vessel’s crew are excited to meet their loved ones in the Philippines again. “Sa ngayon high morale sila (crew members) after nakarating ng Pilipinas after almost dalawang buwan ng paglalayag mula US…,”  he said. The BRP Alcaraz will be formally welcomed Tuesday in ceremonies led by President Benigno Aquino. — LBG, GMA News

Aug 022013
Newly acquired warship arrives in PH amid sea row

1:14 pm | Friday, August 2nd, 2013 The BRP Ramon Alcaraz is the second Hamilton-class cutter that was acquired by the Philippine Navy under the Foreign Military Sales Program of the United States. The ship was named after Philippine Navy Commodore Ramon Alcaraz, a World War II hero who commanded the Philippine Offshore Patrol’s Q-Boat Q-112 Abra which shot down three Japanese aircraft. US EMBASSY PHOTO RELEASE MANILA, Philippines—The Philippines’ second warship acquired from the US, the BRP Ramon Alcaraz, was welcomed by local fishing vessels off Aurora as it entered the Philippine waters early Friday. “After almost two months of long journey from South Carolina, we can now confidently say that she BRP Alcaraz is finally home,” the Philippine Navy in its official blog announced. The arrival of the second Hamilton-class came amid a tense territorial dispute between the Philippines and China in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea). The warship, which sailed in the Pacific Ocean from South Carolina for almost two months, was welcomed through a “sail past.” It was carrying 88 officers and crew. The BRP Ramon Alcaraz left the US last June 10. The Philippines acquired from the US Coast Guard its first Hamilton cutter in  May 2011 and named it BRP Gregorio del Pilar. The BRP Alcaraz is expected to anchor in Subic Bay on Sunday. A formal welcome ceremony  will be held at Alava Wharf at Subic Bay Freeport Zone in Zambales on Tuesday. “Tomorrow is a special day for them. They Read More …

Aug 012013
BRP Ramon Alcaraz enters PH – Navy

By Frances MangosingINQUIRER.net 2:32 pm | Thursday, August 1st, 2013 The BRP Ramon Alcaraz is the second Hamilton-class cutter that was acquired by the Philippine Navy under the Foreign Military Sales Program of the United States. The ship was named after Philippine Navy Commodore Ramon Alcaraz, a World War II hero who commanded the Philippine Offshore Patrol’s Q-Boat Q-112 Abra which shot down three Japanese aircraft. US EMBASSY PHOTO RELEASE MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines’ second warship, the BRP Ramon Alcaraz, arrived early Thursday from an almost-two month voyage from the United States. The warship, with 88 Navy personnel on board led by Captain Ernesto Baldovino, entered the Philippine area of responsibility past 1 a.m., Navy spokesperson Lt. Cmdr. Gregory Fabic  told INQUIRER.net. “It is expected to be in Casiguran, Aurora by Friday morning,” Fabic said, but declined to provide the current location of the ship for operational security purposes. In Casiguran, BRP Ramon Alcaraz will be welcomed by local fishing vessels. The next day (August 3), BRP Gregorio del Pilar will welcome BRP Ramon Alcaraz on Bolinao waters. The ship is expected to anchor in Subic Bay on Sunday (August 4). A formal welcome ceremony  will be held at Alava Wharf at Subic Bay Freeport Zone in Zambales on Tuesday (August 6). The decommissioned US Coast Guard ship, left Charleston in South Carolina in USA last June 10. It made port stops in Mayport in Florida; San Diego in California; Hawaii and Guam. Related story: Country’s 2nd warship starts Read More …

Jul 032013
BRP Alcaraz to arrive in PHL on Aug. 3 — DFA

The BRP Alcaraz, the Philippine Navy’s newest warship, is due to arrive in the Philippines on August 3, the Department of Foreign Affairs said. In an article posted on its website July 3, the DFA mentioned the expected arrival date after the BRP Alcaraz reached San Diego last June 29. “BRP Alcaraz is expected to arrive in the Philippines on August 3, 2013,” it said. Last June 29, the BRP Alcaraz arrived at the 52nd US Naval Base in San Diego, California, while en route to the Philippines. Its crew received a warm welcome from Philippine Consul General to Los Angeles Maria Hellen de la Vega and the Filipino community, the same article said. De la Vega said the BRP Alcaraz is “a fitting acquisition for the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ modernization program.” She added it “will enhance the Philippines’ naval assets, adding the Philippines must attach greater focus and attention to maritime security.” BRP Alcaraz (PF-16) is the Philippine Navy’s second Hamilton-class cutter and sister ship of the BRP Gregorio del Pilar (PF-15). The BRP Alcaraz has 14 officers and 74 crew members led by Capt. Ernesto Baldovino. “(It) is capable of conducting patrols for long periods of time and can withstand heavy weather and rough sea conditions,” the DFA said. BRP Alcaraz was named after Commodore Ramon Alcaraz, a Philippine Navy officer, who commanded a patrol boat that shot down three Japanese aircraft. — RSJ, GMA News

Jun 162013

CHARLESTON, South Carolina, June 10 – More than a year after it was turned over by the United States, the Philippine Navy’s latest acquisition, the BRP Ramon Alcaraz finally sailed for Manila on Monday in a voyage that would take almost two months. The Alcaraz left shortly before 10 a.m. on Monday, a day after Ambassador Jose L. […]

Jun 142013
Navy awards 'Captain Bok' in Cebu Pacific mishap

Navy ENS Marlon Bo receives medal for helping CebuPac passengers. Philippine Navy Capt. Jesulito Calimag, deputy commander of the Naval Reserve Command in Intramuros, Manila, pins a commendation medal on ENS Marlon Bo on Friday, June 14. Bo, a Navy reservist, helped calm down and assisted the stricken passengers of the Cebu Pacific plane that skidded off the Davao Int’l Airport runway on June 2. Danny Pata When Ensign Marlon Bo, a naval reserve officer, boarded Cebu Pacific’s Flight 5J-971 as a passenger on June 2, he didn’t know he’d emerge from it a hero. Bo was the “Captain Bok” referred to by the flight’s passengers who they said helped maintain calm after the plane skidded off the runway of the Davao International Airport on that day. “They thought I was the captain,” a visibly happy Bo told GMA News Online on Friday. “But I was actually wearing shorts and sandals that time.” For his deeds, the Philippine Navy awarded Bo with the Military Commendation Medal at the Navy Reserve Command Headquarters in Intramuros. Bo was mentioned in a personal account of one of the passengers, describing him as a “guiding voice” at the time of the incident, which paralyzed the operations of the Davao airport for almost two days. Captain Bok “It took the courage of one person, whom we only know as Captain Bok from the Philippine Navy, to stand up and calm everyone down. He knew what he was doing and he was in control even when the Read More …

Jun 112013
BRP Ramon Alcaraz stops at Florida to test-fire cannon

BRP Ramon Alcaraz sails for PHL. The newest warship of the Philippine Navy, the BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PF 16) with 14 officers and 74 enlisted personnel lead by Capt. Ernesto Baldovino, departs on Monday, June 10 from Charleston, South Carolina bound for the Philippines. The ship is expected to arrive in August after making port visits to San Diego, Hawaii and Guam for reprovisioning. The BRP Alcaraz will test fire its main gun off the coast of Florida. PN/DFA/Elmer Cato The BRP Ramon Alcaraz, the the Philippine Navy’s second Hamilton-class ship, made a stop at Mayport, Florida in the US Tuesday evening (Philippine Standard Time), the Philippine Embassy in Washington said. In posts on its Twitter account, the embassy said the Ramon Alcaraz was to load and test-fire its 76-mm Oto Melara cannon while in Mayport. According to Italian manufacturer Oto Melara, the 76-mm compact naval gun is a rapid-fire cannon that can be installed on relatively small warships. It shoots 76-mm, 62-caliber shells at selectable rates of either one round or a full rate of fire of 80 rounds per minute. The embassy also said that Florida was the Alcaraz’s first stop in its voyage to the Philippines. It would also pass through the Panama Canal. The BRP Ramon Alcaraz started its journey to the Philippines from the United States Monday night (Philippine Standard Time). It was given an emotional send-off by the Filipino community of Charleston, South Carolina. — DVM, GMA News