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Phl Navy: Deployment of warship to Spratlys will not increase tensions

MANILA, Philippines - The Department of National Defense (DND) yesterday gave assurance that the deployment of the warship BRP Gregorio del Pilar to the West Philippine Sea would not increase tensions in the region.

DND spokesman Peter Paul Galvez said the deployment was merely intended to secure the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

“I don’t think so,” Galvez said when asked if the move would be a cause of concern for China and other claimants of the Spratly Islands.

“We were clear that it is simply there for us to really take care of our exclusive economic zone and it is but our mandate to do so. Or primary initiative is to protect our own territory,” he said.

Galvez maintained that the Philippines would continue to comply with existing international laws.

“We will continue to implement what we need to do – to protect our EEZ,” he said.

The military echoed this, saying that the deployment of the ship is part of the efforts to maintain the country’s sovereignty.

“The things being done on the BRP del Pilar is part of our mandate of protecting our vast marine and natural resources. It is part of our mandate to maintain the territorial integrity (and) sovereignty of our Filipino nation,” Armed Forces spokesman Col. Arnulfo Burgos Jr. said in a press briefing.

The BRP Gregorio del Pilar, the Philippines’ largest warship, was commissioned last Wednesday and will be deployed to the West Philippine Sea this month.

Navy Capt. Alberto Cruz, commanding officer of the ship, said the vessel would reach the West Philippine Sea before Christmas.

Early this year, the Philippine government acquired the BRP Gregorio del Pilar from the US Coast Guard to beef up its external defense capabilities.

The ship is the Navy’s first Hamilton-class vessel and was acquired under the US Foreign Military Sales program. The government spent P450 million for the vessel’s transfer costs.

The BRP Gregorio del Pilar is 380 feet-long and is now the Navy’s largest ship. It will be used to secure energy projects in the Malampaya field off Palawan.

The Philippines will be deploying the warship amid a territorial row over the Spratly Islands, an area in the West Philippine Sea that is rich in mineral and marine resources.

The Philippines, China, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan claim either part or the entire Spratly Islands, which has been the subject of a territorial dispute in the region.

The Philippines is pushing for a multilateral approach to resolve the territorial row.

China, however, said conflicting claims should be addressed through direct bilateral negotiations among claimant countries. It also discouraged the intervention of external forces that are not party to the dispute such as the United States.

Meanwhile, the DND is mum on reports that China has deployed its largest patrol ship to the East China Sea to protect its territorial claims.

“In our case, we are simply here to protect our EEZ. We are more concerned with what’s happening with our EEZ. We really need to protect our own area first before we consider other incidents,” Galvez said.

The DND has not received reports about the sending of the Chinese ship to the East China Sea, Galvez said.

Reports said the Chinese ship, named Haijian 50, started its voyage to the East China Sea last Tuesday.

Chinese officials were quoted as saying that the ship would visit Rixiang Rock, Suyan Rock, the oil and gas fields of Chunxiao and Pinghu, and zones being developed by Japan and China.
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By Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) Updated December 18, 2011 12:00 AM
http://www.philstar.com/Article.aspx?articleId=759646&publicationSubCategoryId=63

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