PNoy to visit Palawan base amid China tensions

Posted at 05/26/14 3:42 PM

PH Navy to hold anniversary in base fronting disputed seas

MANILA – President Benigno Aquino III will head to Palawan on Tuesday to attend the Philippine Navy’s 116th anniversary at a naval base that could potentially put the US right smack in the middle of the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) disputes.

Malacanang today confirmed Aquino’s attendance at the ceremony to witness the capability demonstration of the Naval Forces West (NFW) Command Center and the conceptual master plan of Naval Station Carlito Cunanan (NSCC) in Puerto Princesa, Palawan.

The base is the Navy’s primary operational command in securing the West Philippine Sea and has been at the forefront of territorial defense operations in the Kalayaan Island Group, one of the areas also being claimed by China.

The base has also been identified for possible use by the US under the recently signed Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA). The mutual defense board has yet to make a final determination on the bases that will be covered by the EDCA.

Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said the upgraded command center, equipped with secure communications equipment and a satellite-based vessel tracking system, will further bolster the country’s defense capabilities and ensure stability in the area.

“On the other hand, Naval Station Carlito Cunanan—named after the first naval officer to support the 1986 EDSA Revolution—has been slated for redevelopment, which includes the rehabilitation of the pier, living quarters, and other support facilities. These efforts are in line with the EDCA, through which we hope to further improve our defense capacities,” he said.

During his state visit in April, US President Barack Obama said the US has no intention of containing China. The Philippines, which has a smaller military capability compared to China’s, has sought a multilateral approach to resolving the sea disputes.

Over the weekend, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte tried to downplay the impact of the trip.

“Any possible visit by the President to Palawan should not raise any more tensions as a visit to Cebu would, as a visit to Davao would, because that’s part of the Philippines. And the last time we checked, hindi naman po disputed area ‘yang Palawan at sa Pilipinas po ‘yan. We shouldn’t really look at it from the point of view that it will raise tension. That’s part of the Philippines. The President, as is his job, is entitled to go around the country and to attend various engagements,” she said.

Lacierda also highlighted the Navy’s anniversary wherein “we also commemorate the sacrifice of our Marines, who have bravely devoted themselves to protecting our territorial and maritime borders. We recognize their hard work and dedication, and in them find renewed inspiration to maintain our commitment to protect our national sovereignty.”

It is the first time in the Philippine Navy history that it will hold its anniversary in the naval operating forces. This is to showcase the Navy’s future plans of developing and improving its forward operating base in Palawan, which faces the West Philippine Sea.

The anniversary Tuesday will have a theme of: “Protecting our Territory, Safeguarding our Future.” The anniversary celebration highlights the awarding of the deserving officers, enlisted personnel, civilian employees and partners of the Philippine Navy in nation-building, maritime cooperation and other concerns.