Tuesday, May 01, 2012

‘Stronger Navy’ urged amid Scarborough dispute

MANILA, Philippines — A lawmaker on Tuesday said that the country’s ongoing standoff with China over the ownership of Panatag (Scarborough) shoal indicated that a “stronger Navy” was necessary in asserting its sovereignty.

“Effective diplomacy is the best approach to disagreements over our territorial waters. A stronger Navy will surely reinforce our diplomacy,” House Deputy Majority Leader Roman Romulo said in a statement.

A senior member of the committee on foreign affairs, Romulo said that internal armed conflicts kept the Philippine Navy from developing its capabilities to deal with foreign aggression – something he thought was “absolutely imperative for an unusually large archipelago with more than 7,100 islands.”

“The Philippines is one of the five biggest archipelagos in the world along with Indonesia, Japan, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. Yet, we also have one of the smallest and most poorly equipped navies in the world.,” said the lawmaker, explaining that the Navy’s largest warship, BRP Gregorio del Pilar, was a 45-year-old decommissioned US Coast Guard cutter handed over to the country through the United States’ Excess Defense Article Program.

For decades, the Armed Forces of the Philippines has been fighting communist rebels and militant Islamist groups in the country and it was due to this that the military, Romulo said, was forced to grow in another direction.

“Instead of being primed to ward off potential foreign aggression, our Armed Forces have been wholly geared up to suppress domestic dissidents. This is why we have a big Army but a small Navy,” he said, explaining how the AFP’s troop strength was divided into the Army (80,000), the Navy (26,000), and the Air Force (17,000).

While the country had, at its disposal, a “bulky infantry trained to fight on foot local dissidents in our mountains and jungles… this was achieved at the expense of building an adequate Navy, or a passable Air Force,” he added.

It has been almost a month since the Philippine Navy was prevented by maritime surveillance vessels from China from confronting a group of Chinese fishermen they caught poaching in waters off the disputed shoal.

The country has been in a standoff with China since April 10, with the Chinese government not showing any indication of giving up its claim over the shoal located 124 nautical miles west of Zambales province and considered by the Philippines to be within its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

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