Saturday, February 11, 2012

Philippines wants to retain equipment from US ship

CLARK, PAMPANGA, Philippines  – The Philippine Navy is requesting the United States to keep intact some features of the second ship it plans to provide the country.

“We are hoping that they would add and retain (some of the ship’s capabilities),” Navy chief Vice Admiral Alexander Pama said at the sidelines of the Hot Air Balloon Festival here yesterday.

Among the ship’s features that Pama wants retained are communication equipment, sensors and radars.

The Navy chief said that they are grateful to the US because the second ship will be a big help to their naval defense capability.

Last year, the Philippines acquired the BRP Gregorio del Pilar from the US Coast Guard to enhance its territorial defense capabilities.

The ship – the Navy’s first Hamilton-class vessel – was acquired under the US Foreign Military Sales program.

The government spent P450 million for the vessel’s transfer costs.

The US, however, removed some of the ship’s accessories before it was turned over to the Philippines.

Some of the features stripped from the ship were the sensors, communications andelectronics equipment, and close-in weapons system.

Reports have quoted Kurt Campbell, US diplomat for East Asia, as saying that his government is considering a request by the Philippines to transfer equipment removed from the ship.

The Gregorio del Pilar was deployed to Palawan on Dec. 23.

On Wednesday, Republican Rep. Ed Royce told a congressional hearing that the review process for transferring the second ship to the Philippines would be finished this week.

“I am pleased to report that the congressional review process for another ship – Coast Guard cutter Dallas – wraps up this week. It should soon be on its way to Manila,” Royce said.

Armed Forces of the Philippines chief Lt. Gen. Jessie Dellosa said the acquisition of the second ship is still under negotiation.

Meanwhile, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) said the transfer of the US ship to the Philippines would provoke conflict in the West Philippine Sea.

“The transfer of another naval cutter from the US government serves the purpose of US military buildup in the (West Philippine) Sea,” CPP said in a statement.

“By acquiring the US naval cutters and manning it to serve US interests, the Aquino regime is making the Philippines a possible target of the potential enemies of the US,” it explained.

According to the CPP, the US is planning to use the Philippine Navy as an “augmentation force” as it projects its military presence in the region.

Lawmakers: No to US bases

Meanwhile, San Juan Rep. Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito opposed yesterday the reported plan of the United States to build a small military base in the country.

“We fought long and hard to oust the US bases in Subic and Olongapo City. To reopen the US bases or set up new bases anywhere in the country should be non-negotiable. Clearly, at this point, our country does not have much to gain from this strategic military and economic plan of the US,” Ejercito said.

He was reacting to a report in the American media that the US plans to “rotate” some 4,000 troops through “Australia, Hawaii, Subic Bayand perhaps a smaller base in the Philippines.”

Twenty years ago, the Senate voted to terminate the RP-US Military Bases Agreement because the Constitution prohibits the presence of foreign troops in the country.

Ejercito’s father, former President and then senator Joseph Estrada, was among those who voted for removing the American bases.

Ejercito explained if the government does not handle US “rotation” proposals well, they could “eventually lead to the return of American bases here.”

“The Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) should suffice if the country wants to continue building relations with the US to explore increased joint military exercises and other military cooperation,” he noted.

Ejercito added, “For the government to give more than what we have already acceded to the US within the VFA would be counter-productive and a step towards infringing on the sovereignty of our country.”

He pointed out that building a US base, however small, would require an amendment of the Constitution, which clearly bans foreign military bases in the country.

Ejercito also expressed fears that the re-entry of more US troops here could cause other problems such as prostitution, gambling and abandonment of children fathered by American servicemen, and could even worsen the local communist insurgency problem.

Another congressman, Walden Bello of the party-list group Akbayan, urged the House of Representatives and the Senate to closely monitor talks to foster RP-US military cooperation.

“We in Congress should monitor the decisions that the administration is making. Talks between Philippine officials and their American counterparts are all over the news, but information about what is happening, and what is being agreed on, is very rare to come by,” Bello said during a privilege speech.

“Many of us in Congress have no knowledge of the plans that the Department of Foreign Affairs (is) discussing with the US. And while we don’t expect to have access to all the details, as the people’s representatives in government, Congress must gain an understanding of the overall direction of these plans,” he explained.
With Jess Diaz
By Alexis Romero
The Philippine Star
February 10, 2012 12:00 AM

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