Noy inaugurates 2 newly commissioned ships

- Alexis Romero, Jaime Laude -

MANILA, Philippines - The country’s largest warship will be deployed in the West Philippine Sea before Christmas to guard the country’s borders, a Navy officer said yesterday.

Speaking at Navy headquarters in Manila, Navy Capt. Alberto Cruz, commanding officer of BRP Gregorio del Pilar, said they are awaiting orders from the military leadership on the ship’s deployment.

“It will be deployed within this month, before Christmas. This will secure the territory of the Philippines,” Cruz said.

Cruz said the ship’s travel time from Manila to the West Philippine Sea would be about 24 hours.

The ship’s crewmembers were selected from various naval units, he added.

Cruz said the sailors manning the ship are part of the Navy’s “cream of the crop.”

“The crewmembers will spend Christmas inside the ship,” he said.

The Navy commissioned the Gregorio del Pilar at Pier 13 in South Harbor, Manila at 10 a.m. yesterday.

It is the country’s first Hamilton-class cutter.

President Aquino witnessed the commissioning of the Gregorio del Pilar, which was acquired from the US Coast Guard early this year.

Aquino also led the commissioning of the BRP Tagbanua, a landing craft utility that is 100 percent Filipino made and the BO105 helicopter donated by the Tourism department.

Three of Aquino’s sisters served as principal sponsors of the two ships and aircraft.

This was in line with a tradition of tapping females to serve as sponsors of maritime assets to be commissioned.

Navy officials and the principal sponsors broke a bottle of local basi wine on the ships’ bows for good luck and smooth voyage.

In other countries, bottles of champagne are used for the ceremony.

Basi, made of sugarcane, was also poured on the newly commissioned BO105 helicopter.

Navy chief Vice Adm. Alexander Pama said the Gregorio del Pilar is “the symbol and icon of our capability upgrade and modernization program.”

“The (BRP Gregorio del Pilar) will now steam as the vanguard of your Navy as she now leads our fleet in fulfilling our obligation to secure our maritime nation’s territorial integrity and sovereignty and protect our exclusive economic zone,” he said.

“All these have become a reality for us only because of the obstinate desire of our President and Commander-in-Chief to provide your Navy with the necessary wherewithal to perform its missions and functions.”

Aquino’s elder sister Maria Elena “Ballsy” Cruz served as the principal sponsor of the warship.

Early this year, the government acquired its first Hamilton-class vessel from the US Coast Guard to enhance the military’s external defense capabilities.

The 380 feet-long vessel Gregorio del Pilar was acquired under the US Foreign Military Sales program.

The ship’s transfer cost was pegged at about P450 million and was bankrolled by proceeds from the Malampaya funds.

The Navy also commissioned the Tagbanua, a locally built Navy landing craft utility named after an indigenous group in Palawan.

Navy spokesman Lt. Col. Omar Tonsay said the ship is primarily designed to transport combat personnel, tanks, vehicles and cargo.

The government spent P180 million from the military’s modernization funds for the ship, which was manufactured by shipbuilder Propmech.

Presidential sister Victoria Elisa “Viel” Dee served as the principal sponsor of the ship.

Robert Cursod Jr., leader of the Tagbanua tribe after which the ship was named, was present during the ceremony.

Also commissioned yesterday was a BO105 helicopter named Philippine Navy Helicopter 422.

The helicopter was donated by the Tourism department’s Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority last August.

Tonsay said the helicopter is ready for deployment after the Naval Air Group undertook a few repairs. Presidential sister Aurora Corazon “Pinky” Abellada served as principal sponsor of the helicopter.

In the same event, the Navy renamed the presidential yacht Ang Pag Asa (hope) to Ang Pangulo.

The yacht was renamed “to continue the heritage and carry the honor and prestige of the Philippine presidency.”

The Ang Pangulo has been the presidential yacht since the time of President Diosdado Macapagal and was originally named RPS Roxas. 

5 new choppers

The Navy is set to acquire five new helicopters next year.

Marine Col. Ariel Caculitan, Naval Air Group commander, said acquisition of the helicopters is already on the pipeline.

“The acquisition of the additional five helicopters is a big lift to our naval air capability,” he said.

The Navy has 10 operational fixed wings air assets, four of which are trainer planes, six islanders and three helicopters, he added.

Caculitan said the five helicopters will be deployed on board two Hamilton-class cutters which the Navy is acquiring from the US in the first quarter and second quarter next year.

Dellosa orders reforms

New Armed Forces chief Lt. Gen. Jessie Dellosa has ordered his troops to continue undertaking reforms in their financial system and to implement security plan Bayanihan and disaster response measures.

Armed Forces spokesman Col. Arnulfo Burgos Jr. said yesterday Dellosa issued the directives during his first command conference as chief of the 120,000-strong military last Monday.

“He (Dellosa) asked the commanders to continue the reforms started by (former military chief) Gen. (Eduardo) Oban,” he said. “He said we should continue enhancing our financial and logistics system.”

Burgos said Dellosa outlined his four priority areas during the command conference, namely the internal peace and security plan Bayanihan, disaster preparedness, territorial defense and organizational reforms.

The command conference was held immediately after Dellosa assumed as military chief in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City, he added.

The meeting only lasted for about 30 minutes, Burgos said.

Dellosa was installed as the 43rd chief of the Armed Forces last Monday.

During his assumption, Dellosa vowed to continue adhering to the principles of Bayanihan by engaging with civilian stakeholders.

“Many efforts are now being focused on poverty, social injustice, and graft and corruption,” he said.

“In this aspect of work, it should be clear that the role of your AFP is not to lead but to support.

“To further ensure that we achieve the desired end state, we shall vigorously engage all stakeholders, especially the local chief executives in affected areas.”

Dellosa also stressed the need to prepare for climate change and other natural hazards.

“We shall enhance our commitment to cushion the effects of climate change by envisioning a very comprehensive approach on disaster preparedness, enjoining all local community assets and human resources,” he said.

Dellosa also vowed to continue upgrading the military’s capabilities to protect the country’s territory and sovereignty.

“Development of navy and air force bases and facilities to efficiently respond to untoward incidents is something we can no longer ignore,” he said.

He also promised to work for the realization of the Philippine defense reform and to improve AFP’s structure to achieve a lean and capable active force.

Meanwhile, Dellosa witnessed on Monday the turnover by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. of P4.5 million in financial aid to three Army hospitals.

Army spokesman Maj. Harold Cabunoc said the assistance would be used to acquire equipment for the Army General Hospital in Fort Bonifacio, Kuta Major Cesar Sang-an Station Hospital in Zamboanga del Sur and Camp Siongco Station Hospital in Maguindanao.

“The new hospital equipment that will be purchased will greatly improve the delivery of health services for the Army personnel,” said Col. Mariano Mejia, commanding officer of the Army General Hospital.

Aquino and Army chief Maj. Gen. Emmanuel Bautista were also present during the turnover of the financial assistance.– With Aurea Calica

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