Category Archives: External defense

Anyone can stand up to China’s bullying

At the best of times, hostilities between nations are the exclusive domain of the ambassadors. At worst, they are the province of the generals tasked to apply martial solutions to the problem. Tensions between the Philippines and the People’s Republic of China are no different in that they leave the man-on-the-street with no scope for involvement beyond street and online protests — which may very well fall on deaf Sino ears.

However, thanks to the Chinese Foreign Ministry, all that changed on the 25th of June 2012.  Ten days earlier, the Municipality of Kalayaan opened the Pag-asa Elementary School which sought to end the 34-year absence of educational opportunities on Pag-asa Island. To this end, island residents converted an unused multi-purpose building into a one-classroom facility, and sought the services of a teacher who agreed to be relocated to Pag-asa. The municipality inaugurated the school on the 15th of June.


The Chinese foreign ministry, always keen to respond to any perceived challenge to PRC claims or international positions, condemned the school’s creation with the following press release.


Long-time China-watchers recognized the press release as a routine activity. It was reminiscent of the tit-for-tat exchange that regularly took place between the foreign affairs ministries of Taiwan and mainland China (Note: The author lived in Taiwan for 3.5 years and saw these exchanges first-hand). However in this instance, it inadvertently brought the issue down to the level of the everyday Filipino. With that press statement, China associated its sovereignty with the fate of the school. This meant that for as long as the school remained open, it was an affront to Chinese claims over the territory. Consequently, anyone who helped to ensure school’s success, was DIRECTLY challenging Chinese claims within the Philippine EEZ. China had given the Filipino people a tangible, permanent, means of protesting its machinations in the Western Philippine Sea.

The opportunity this unique turn of events created was not lost upon members of the Timawa Donation Group (TDG) — a sub-set of an online national defense-oriented community known as (translation: Free man) that had long been involved in efforts to provide assistance to individual AFP units as well as to support AFP community outreach programs. The TDG promptly organized an exploratory project in June 2012 to develop procedures for the collection of donations and their transport to the Pag-asa Elementary School. As a precaution in the pilot project, participation was by invitation only.  Volunteers from the United States, Singapore, and various cities within the Philippines took part.

The group wrapped up the  project in November 2012 with the successful turnover of goods to the liaison office of the Western Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City. The group had corresponded with the commanding officer of the command at the time, who then endorsed the group to his Public Information Officer who offered to facilitate transport of the items. However, scheduling difficulties meant that the items did not actually reach Pag-asa island till early 2013. Despite the delay, donation items successfully reached the school. Lessons were learned, procedures modified and the pilot was declared a success. Project proponents created the following video to celebrate the completion of the pilot project.

Encouraged by the results of the first run, the group launched the 2013 effort on June 14, with a synchronized delivery date of October 20. With the first live project donation items were sent directly to the Kalayaan Extension Office in Puerto Princessa, Palawan.

Now operating under the hashtag “#pagasaKIG”, participation in the project was opened to all interested parties. Invitations to participate were issued on the main forum (see A year of defiance [#pagasaKIG]), as well as on the Kalayaan Island Group development forum group on Facebook.


Although the project deadline was set for October, the group decided to take advantage of the availability of a Philippine Navy vessel for transporting goods in August. The Makati node for the project sent an early batch of items consisting of five boxes containing various books, school and personal hygiene supplies was sent to the Kalayaan Extension Office in Puerto Princessa on July 31st.

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The boxes arrived in Puerto Princessa the following day and are due for delivery to Pag-asa island in early August. The photographs below show personnel at the Kalayaan extension office sealing the boxes in plastic to protect them for the journey to Pag-asa.

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All other nodes are still scheduled to send their items in on October the 20th — including the Makati node which will be sending a second package on that date.

About the school

When the Pag-asa Elementary School opened, the Department of Education (DepEd) had not yet assumed administration of the school. At that point the municipality had not yet complied with all the requirements for the establishment of the school. Among the requirements was the formal turn over of land for the school; a task complicated by the absence of land titles on the island. The DepEd also required financial commitment from municipality to fund the school for the next five years. While these requirements were being worked out, the municipal government and the DepEd entered into a Memorandum of Agreement to allow the school to operate.

Eight kindergarten students and a lone teacher populated the school in its inaugural school year.  Although there were a total of 24 children on the island five were not yet of school age, and the rest had enrolled in Palawan by the time the school opened.   By the end of the school year, four of the children graduated, and the teaching staff grew to two educators.

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School Year 2013-2014 saw a number of noteworthy improvements:

  • The municipality had already complied with the one-hectare land allocation requirement imposed by the DepEd
  • A second building, funded by the Ayala Foundation, was under construction. A third building funded by the Provincial government was being processed
  • Enrollment jumped to 23 students ranging from kindergarten to Grade 6

The photographs below show the enlarged student body celebrating nutrition month along with the island’s military residents.

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The Pag-asa Elementary School, a symbol of a republic’s defiance against foreign encroachment, was gaining steam. Maintenance of that momentum, however, is contingent upon continued support by the remainder of the republic. If this school fails . . . China wins.


Timeline: Kalayaan Sheltered Port project (Updated for May 2014)

Note: This article has been updated on to include information about House Bill 4167

The fishermen and municipal workers and families that live on Pag-asa Island comprise the most isolated civilian community in the Republic of the Philippines. The island, the largest of eight (8) Philippine occupied coral outcroppings in the Municipality of Kalayaan, is approximately 509 kilometers northwest of Puerto Princessa and 828 kilometers southwest of Metro Manila. Once a strictly a military installation, Pag-asa was opened to civilian settlement in 2002.


Since the creation of the settlement, the Municipal government of Kalayaan has established a range of facilities that provide vital public services that are expected of a functional community. Pag-asa has a power station consisting of a solar panel farm, charging a bank of 48 batteries, as well a conventional fossil-fueled generator to provide for the island’s electrical needs. The island’s reverse osmosis plant converts seawater into potable drinking water that residents collect from the plant. Water for domestic use is piped into individual homes.


Smart Telecommunications established a cell site, connected to its main network via VSAT (Very Small Aperture Terminal), on the island in 2005 making normal GSM-based cellphone communication with the island possible. The first call on the system took place on June 12 at 5:18 PM between the mayor of the municipality at the time and a Smart Telecom executive. The company completed a maintenance visit to the cell site in 2011, thus ensuring continued operation of the facility.


In 2012, the municipal government entered into a Memorandum of Agreement with the Department of Education to establish the Pag-asa Elementary School. There are currently 24 children that call Pag-asa, Kalayaan  home. Fourteen are from fishing families, while the other 10 are children of municipal workers. Children of the latter go to school in Palawan. As of last year, 8 of the 14 enrolled in the Pag-asa Elementary School. Five were still too young to go to school and were candidates for the next school year. One child was un-enrolled. By mid-school year, the teaching staff at the school had expanded to two teachers. The school started with municipality’s multi-purpose hall which residents converted for its current purpose. Two buildings will be added this year. One funded by the Ayala Foundation is currently under construction. Another is being funded by the Provincial Governor of Palawan.

First classroom First graduation
Pag-asa-Elementary-School 942383_10201137358973579_1487824603_n

Continued development of the island and the rest of the municipality hinges on the availability of reliable and regular transportation to the rest of the country, especially the province of Palawan. This would facilitate the transport of goods and materials to the islands, and promote socio-economic activity — whose development has thus far been painfully slow.

Pag-asa Island is one of only two islands in the Spratly Islands with a functional airstrip. The Armed Forces of the Philippines constructed the Pag-asa airfield in the early 70’s and named if after the visionary PAF Commanding General that ordered its construction:  Jose Rancudo. To date, however, there are no scheduled commercial flights to the municipal seat of power, save for periodic flights by AFP aircraft (the runway can accommodate the C-130 Hercules cargo planes and host of smaller aircraft). Charter flights have reached the island in the recent past. But with costs of reportedly P100K per charter, this would be too cost-prohibitive for local residents.

The primary means by which settlers travel to and from the closest Philippine landmass — Palawan — is by sea. Up until recently, passage to the island primarily by way of Philippine Navy ships. Civilians would be taken aboard as passengers on navy warships which re-supplied the various garrisons on Philippine-held islands. The Municipality expanded the community’s transportation options by acquiring its own vessel: the 40-meter M/V Queen Seagull.

Ship-to-shore transfers however are difficult because of the absence of port facilities. During the monsoon season, vessels have to drop anchor approximately 5 kilometers to the east to a submerged reef that provides comparatively better shelter than the waters around Pag-asa itself. This deficiency also means that the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) and Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) are unable to station patrol craft in the area to enforce environmental protection and similar laws. As had been reported on numerous occasions in the Philippine press, poachers are able to wreck havoc on the coral reefs within sight of Pag-asa authorities who were powerless to take appropriate action. The Philippine Navy is similarly unable to pre-position vessels for sovereignty patrols. The nearest naval station with a functional pier is in Ulungan Bay in Palawan which is over 500 kilometers to the east of the island.

For this reason, the Municipality of Kalayaan proposed the the Kalayaan Sheltered Port project. The Municipal government used the following graphic in one of their presentations to various national government agencies. It shows the location of the proposed port as well as the rehabilitated runway.


The following table chronicles the twists and turns that this project has taken. Efforts to create a port have been initiated in the past. However this article will focus on the most recent project. Updates will be posted as new information becomes available . . . both current and historical.

Date   Description   Relevant documents
June 22, 2011 Upon advice of the Philippine Ports Authority, the Office of the Municipal Mayor brought its appeal for funds to build port facilities on Pag-asa to the Office of the President. The letter suggested tapping into Malampaya proceeds for the project. Letter to PNoy June 22, Re Port Page 1Letter to PNoy June 22, 2011 Re Port Page 2
July 5, 2011 Office of the President referred the matter of the port facilities to Secretary of the Department of Agriculture (DA) for appropriate action. Note the inclusion of a patrol craft in the request, which was not mentioned in the initial correspondence in June.The rationale for why the request was routed to the DA instead of the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC), which has oversight over the Philippine Ports Authority, is unclear. 1st Indorsement from Malacanang to DA OSec Re Port Project
July 19, 2011 Department of Agriculture acknowledged receipt of correspondence from Office of the President and indicates that the matter has been referred to Director  of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) DA Acknowledgement Sheet Re Port Project
August 4, 2011 Office of the Municipal Mayor sends a letter to the Department of Transportation and Communications appealing for assistance to build port facilities on Pag-asa Island. This line-of-communication is separate from the one that eventually went to the Department of Agriculture. Letter to Sec Mar Roxas
August 10, 2011 The BFAR asks the Municipality of Kalayaan to submit a formal project proposal that includes designs and drawings of the proposed port as well as technical specifications for the requested patrol craft. 2nd Indorsement BFAR Response Re Port & Patrol Craft
August 19, 2011 DOTC informs Kalayaan Municipal government that the Kalayaan Shelter Port has been included in the DOTC infrastructure program for Calendar Year 2012. The letter, however, notes that continued action on the request hinged on Congressional deliberation and availability of funds.The Kalayaan port is included in the National Expenditure Program (NEP) for 2012. See here. An excerpt of the relevant section of the document appears to the right of the aforementioned letter. ASec Esguerra DOTC Letter Response Aug 4 Re Port with SignatureNEP2012 details
December 15, 2011 Office of the President signs Republic Act 10155, General Appropriations Act of 2012, into law. This budget allocated the sum of P5M to the development of two ports on Palawan, to include the port in Pag-asa, in accordance with the DOTC proposal for the NEP. See page 3 of this Department of Budget and Management (DBM) document. Relevant excerpt appears on the right.As per DBM guidance, funds allocated in this budget are only available until December 31, 2013. See here. gaa_allocation2012
February 2, 2012 Municipal government sends message to BFAR, amending original request to exclude patrol craft and focus instead on port facilities.Photographs and graphic representations of the proposed facilities, as well as a photo what the Vietnamese had done on Pugad Island, were included reponse_2nd_endorsement1reponse_2nd_endorsement2
March 28, 2012 Kalayaan Municipal government responds, via email, to an urgent request from the DOTC for information about the scope of work, and specifications of the port.The response mentions a conference between the Philippine Ports Authority and the Flag-Officer-In-Command (FOIC) of the Philippine Navy on March 21, 2012 where both parties agreed to pool their resources to construct the port. Both agencies put forth their respective proposals. The Municipal government expressed preference for the Philippine Navy proposal.The Municipal office, admitting to a lack of expertise, referred the DOTC to the aforementioned agencies for the technical details. KIG_respose_to_DOTC_response_to_reply_to_response_2nd_endorse
March 30, 2012 DOTC requests that the Kalayaan Municipal government present a thorough feasibility study of the project, that included justification for the project (e.g., technical, social, financial, and economic aspects), as well as details designs of the proposed port.The email indicates that this information is part of budget planning for 2013. However, the Pag-asa port project is not included in the DOTC section of the National Expenditure Program for 2013 (see here). Funds allocated in the 2012 budget, however, remain valid till the end of 2013. reply_to_response_2nd_endorse_by_DOTC
August 30, 2012 DOTC requested the Municipality of Kalayaan for information about previous studies conducted by the PPA/DA or the AFP about the feasibility of constructing a port. This data will reportedly be use for the drafting of a Term of Reference (TOR) for hiring of consultants for the drafting of a Master Plan for the project. request_for_data_for_TOR
July 17, 2013 In response to an update request from the Municipality of Kalayaan, the regional DOTC office relates that an un-named Under Secretary sought information about the purpose of the port — seemingly oblivious to the discussions between the municipality and various national government entities over the past three years Lardizabal17Jul2013
July 17, 2013 Office of the Municipal Mayor of Kalayaan sent the following exasperated response to the latest information request from the DOTC Bitoon response to Lardizabal 7-2013Bitoon response to Lardizabal 7-2013 - part2
December 8, 2013 Office of the Municipal Mayor of Kalayaan sought the assistance of Congressman Teddy Brawner Baguilat (Lone district of Ifugao), one of the members of a congressional delegation that visited Pag-asa island in 2011, to push for the realization of the port project. baguilat2013
March 12, 2014 Representatives Rufus B. Rodriguez and Maximo B. Rodriguez Jr introduced House Bill 4167, which states the following:”The amount of One Billion Pesos (P1,000,000,000) is hereby appropriated to be exclusively used for the fortification and improvement of current structures present in the Kalayaan Group of Islands. Further, the same amount shall also be used to build new structures in the island like harbors, berthing facilities and other structures necessary to promote tourism in the islands and increase the defensive capabilities of the Philippines to strengthen the Philippines’ claim over it” hb4167ahb4167b
May 5, 2014 As per the House of Representatives legislative database, House Bill 4167 was referred to the Committee on Appropriations

Other references

RP’s remotest town freed from isolation, Manila Bulletin, June 15, 2005; copy retrieved from June 16, 2013

The promise of Pag-asa, Manila Standard, August 22, 2005; copy retrieved from June 16, 2013

Smart maintains GSM service on Pag-asa Is., Philippine Star, July 30, 2011; retrieved from on June 16, 2013

Chinese fishing fleet closes in on Pag-asa Island, Philippine Daily Inquirer, July 26, 2012; retrieved June 16, 2013

PH brings China to UNCLOS arbitration

Responding to continued Chinese refusal to end their occupation of Bajo de Masinloc / Panatag Shoal, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs has announced that it would bring China before an Arbitration Tribunal in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The following is an excerpt of the DFA press release:

The Philippines has exhausted almost all political and diplomatic avenues for a peaceful negotiated settlement of its maritime dispute with China. On numerous occasions, dating back to 1995, the Philippines has been exchanging views with China to peacefully settle these disputes. To this day, a solution is still elusive.   We hope that the Arbitral Proceedings shall bring this dispute to a durable solution.

< Edited >

Allow me, however, to highlight some salient points in the Notification and Statement of Claim:

The Philippines asserts that China’s so-called nine-dash line claim that encompasses virtually the entire South China Sea/West Philippine Sea is contrary to UNCLOS and thus unlawful.

Within the maritime area encompassed by the 9-dash line, China has also laid claim to, occupied and built structures on certain submerged banks, reefs and low tide elevations that do not qualify as islands under UNCLOS, but are parts of the Philippine continental shelf, or the international seabed.   In addition, China has occupied certain small, uninhabitable coral projections that are barely above water at high tide, and which are “rocks” under Article 121 (3) of UNCLOS.

China has interfered with the lawful exercise by the Philippines of its rights within its legitimate maritime zones, as well as to the aforementioned features and their surrounding waters.

The Philippines is conscious of China’s Declaration of August 25, 2006 under Article 298 of UNCLOS (regarding optional exceptions to the compulsory proceedings), and has avoided raising subjects or making claims that China has, by virtue of that Declaration, excluded from arbitral jurisdiction.

In this context, the Philippines is requesting the Arbitral Tribunal to issue an Award that, among others:

–       Declares that China’s rights in regard to maritime areas in the South China Sea, like the rights of the Philippines, are those that are established by UNCLOS, and consist of its rights to a Territorial Sea and Contiguous Zone under Part II of UNCLOS, to an EEZ under Part V, and to a Continental Shelf under Part VI;

–       Declares that China’s maritime claims in the SCS based on its so-called nine-dash line are contrary to UNCLOS and invalid;

–       Requires China to bring its domestic legislation into conformity with its obligations under UNCLOS; and

–       Requires that China desist from activities that violate the rights of the Philippines in its maritime domain in the West Philippine Sea.

The Philippines asserts that the Arbitral Tribunal has jurisdiction to hear and make an award based on its Notification and Statement of Claim because the dispute is about the interpretation and application by States Parties of their obligations under the UNCLOS.   Article 287 (1) of UNCLOS provides that “settlement of disputes concerning the interpretation and application of this Convention” may be referred by the Parties for resolution under Part XV of UNCLOS.

Article 287 of UNCLOS: Choice of procedure appears below.

1. When signing, ratifying or acceding to this Convention or at any time thereafter, a State shall be free to choose, by means of a written declaration, one or more of the following means for the settlement of disputes concerning the interpretation or application of this Convention:

(a) the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea established in accordance with Annex VI;

(b) the International Court of Justice;

(c) an arbitral tribunal constituted in accordance with Annex VII;

(d) a special arbitral tribunal constituted in accordance with Annex VIII for one or more of the categories of disputes specified therein.

2. A declaration made under paragraph 1 shall not affect or be affected by the obligation of a State Party to accept the jurisdiction of the Seabed Disputes Chamber of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea to the extent and in the manner provided for in Part XI, section 5.

3. A State Party, which is a party to a dispute not covered by a declaration in force, shall be deemed to have accepted arbitration in accordance with Annex VII.

4. If the parties to a dispute have accepted the same procedure for the settlement of the dispute, it may be submitted only to that procedure, unless the parties otherwise agree.

5. If the parties to a dispute have not accepted the same procedure for the settlement of the dispute, it may be submitted only to arbitration in accordance with Annex VII, unless the parties otherwise agree.

6. A declaration made under paragraph 1 shall remain in force until three months after notice of revocation has been deposited with the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

7. A new declaration, a notice of revocation or the expiry of a declaration does not in any way affect proceedings pending before a court or tribunal having jurisdiction under this article, unless the parties otherwise agree.

8. Declarations and notices referred to in this article shall be deposited with the Secretary-General of the United Nations, who shall transmit copies thereof to the States Parties.

Chinese SSMs at our doorstep?

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that at approximately 7PM, on July 11, 2012, a Chinese Jianghu V class frigate (#560) ran aground at Half Moon Shoal within the Philippine EEZ. Xinhua news confirmed the accident at what they referred to as Banyue Shoal but did not identify the vessel. This ship is no stranger to Philippine waters, as it had reportedly been harassing Philippine fishermen in past months.

The circumstances that led to the grounding remain unclear at this time, although Philippine defense social media is rife with rumors of a deliberate grounding to establish yet another outpost within Philippine waters.
Combat Fleets of the World describes this class’ weapons suite as including six C-802 Ying Ji-2 surface-to-surface missiles (SSM) in rotating turrets. The C-802, referred to in the west as the “Seersucker” is an improved version of the Chinese “Silkworm” SSM, which is itself based on the Soviet Styx missile. As per Air Power Australia, this missile has a range of 110 nautical miles.

The book the Shoals of Palawan describes Half Moon Shoal as follows:

Half Moon Shoal has a rock named Inclined Rock, situation in latitude 8 deg 51 min N, longitude 116 deg 16 min E, which always shows above water on its southeastern side. The shoal, formed by a belt of coral even the surface, of an average width of 200 yards, is of oblong shape, nearly 3 miles in a northeast and opposite direction, with a breadth of 1 mile. On the eastern side, at 400 and 1,000 yards southward of Inclined Rock, there are two channels into the lagoon, the southern of which has a depth of 4 to 9 fathoms in it and is marked by a cluster of rocks on its north side awash at half tide and which generally show. Other half-tide rocks are interspersed over the belt. The average depth in the lagoon is 14 to 16 fathoms, with numerous patches of coral scattered about it. From the shoals, Balabac Peak (not in sight) bears 141 deg (139 deg mag) distant 71 miles. The tide rises and falls about 4 feet at Half Moon Shoal.

The following map has been drawn up using the data above, with the red circle indicating the reported maximum range of the C-802. From the frigate’s current vantage point, the entire western approach to the Balabac sea lane with within range of the ship’s missiles. It is not clear, however, if the ship is indeed equipped with SSMs.


Stand Up for Scarborough Shoal (Bajo Masinloc)

See for details

The following report by the Philippine Information Agency chronicles the state of the Stand Off as of May 2, 2012. For background on the current crisis, see the following discussion on BRP Gregorio del Pilar engages Chinese ships near Scarborough Shoal.

Chinese sea vessels remain in Panatag shoal says NOLCOM

CAMP AQUINO, Tarlac City, May 2 (PIA) — Chinese sea vessels remain in the disputed Panatag shoal, also known as Scarborough shoal, the Northern Luzon Command (NOLCOM) confirmed today.

Based on the monitoring of MCS 3008 and SARV-002/Saragani of the Philippine Coast Guard, seven fishing vessels and three fishing boats of China were still spotted in the territory, which is only 135 nautical miles away from Palauig and Masinloc towns of Zambales as of 8:00 p.m. on May 1.China marine surveillance vessel (CMS) 71 is located at latitude 15 degrees, 30.040 mins. north; longitude 117 degrees, 50.906 mins. east; or 13.6 nautical miles from SARV-002. Meanwhile, CMS 75 is located at latitude 15 degrees, 06.241 mins. north; longitude 117 degrees, 52.243 mins, or 3.3 nautical miles from SARTV-002.On the other hand, CMS 81 is located at latitude 15 degrees 16.275 mins. north, longitude 118 degrees, 01.146 mins. east, or at 11.9 nautical miles from SARV -002.Moreover, China’s FLEC 310 is located at latitude 15 degrees 02.58 mins. north, longitude 117 degrees 53.156 mins east, or at 8.3 nautical miles from SARV 002.

The Philippine government maintain its claim that Panatag is inside the Exclusive Economic Zone, a provision stipulated in the United Nations Continental Shelf, in favor to the Philippines. (WLB/CLJD-PIA 3)

Why the Philippines cannot afford to appear to be goading China

The US cannot declare war in response to its Mutual Defense Treaty with the Philippines without Congressional approval. Such approval will understandably take time. The Philippines’ hope, therefore, lies with the man in the Oval Office — the President of the United States (POTUS) — who has the power to commit US forces to combat for a maximum of 90 days in accordance with the US War Powers Act.

For as long as POTUS is sympathetic to our cause, then the Philippines can benefit from US protection. For this reason, it is ABSOLUTELY critical that the Philippine not be perceived has having provoked the red dragon.

For the text of the US War Powers Act of 1973, see the following discussion:

PN confirms Dallas as next WHEC


The Philippine Navy officially acknowledged on its Website that it had sent a Joint Visual Inspection (JVI) team to the US, from October 31 to November 5, to inspect the USCGC Dallas (WHEC-716) in Charleston, North Carolina. This confirms the PN press release shared on the forum on November 7, 2011 at 10:53 PM (US-Pacific time), and subsequently picked up by the Manila Bulletin and the Philippine Star.

The Dallas is a Hamilton class, 378-foot, High Endurance Cutter (WHEC) in service with the US Coast Guard. It was commissioned in 1967, and underwent an extensive Fleet Rehabilitation and Modernization (FRAM) conversion in 1994 that gave the ship its current weapon and sensor suite.

Most of the ship’s missions have taken place close to the Continental US, performing traditional coast guard duties: search and rescue, anti-narcotics operations, and monitoring of illegal immigrant traffic by sea (e.g., Cuba, Haiti, etc.). However this cutter has also been deployed overseas in support of USN operations. Early in its life, it deployed to Vietnam along with several of her sister ships, to perform sea control functions as well as to provide naval gunfire support off the coast of then-South Vietnam. It has been deployed to the Black Sea on a number of occasions, the first being in 1995 when it became the first USCG cutter to deploy with the US 6th Fleet. In 2008, the Dallas returned to the Black Sea as part of a NATO flotilla that sent to transport humanitarian aid to Georgian port of Batumi at the height of tensions between Russia and the former Soviet republic.

In 2009, the Dallas underwent an 18-month drydock period at Deytens Shipyard in North Carolina where it underwent an extensive refitt (details from the FBO scope of work here). It spent time at the yard along with the USCGC Gallatin. Both ships were reportedly slated to be the first of the Hamilton class ships to be retired, however the expense incurred in aforementioned refit reportedly altered this plan.

The relatively early release of information about the Dallas acquisition is in stark contrast to the PF-15 acquisition, whose existence had been unannounced for more than half of the project’s life. Based on early Timawa-community reports, plans to obtain the USCGC Hamilton — which became the PF-15 — were reportedly hatched in the closing months of the Arroyo administration. The PF-15’s own JVI team reportedly completed it’s inspection in November 2010, roughly the same time of year as the Dallas. But the first acknowledgement of the incoming Hamilton did not come till January, and its identity wasn’t known till March. In the case of the Dallas, the intent to acquire additional Hamilton class WHECs had been made public in August of this year, and the selected ship identified four months later.

As per the PN press release, the USCGC Dallas will be transferred to the Philippines via a “hot transfer”, meaning the ship will be simultaneously decommissioned from the US Coast Guard and accepted by the Philippine Navy without going through a storage process. The transfer is expected in either the first or second quarter of 2012 — similar to the timeline for the PF-15.

For additional information about PF-15, see here:

For discussions about the still un-renamed USCGC Dallas, see here:

Photo below taken from USCGC Dallas ship page:

Primer: Mischief Reef discussion

The Spratly / Kalayaan Island Group issue made its way to Philippine consciousness in 1995 when China built structures on a hitherto unoccupied submerged atoll appropriately called “Mischief Reef”.  The following New York Times story was one of the articles that heralded the event to the world:

New York Times archive

The reef is part of the Spratly Islands, a chain of more than 100 tiny atolls and other rocky formations that straddle vital shipping lanes and, more importantly, are believed to shelter large oil reserves. The Spratlys are claimed in full or in part by China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei.

< Edited >

The Chinese platform was discovered on Feb. 2, when a Philippine patrol boat and reconnaissance plane followed up on the report of a Filipino fisherman who said he had been taken captive by Chinese soldiers on the reef. It is also known in the Philippines as Panganiban Reef and is about 135 miles west of the Philippine island of Palawan.

Aerial photographs show that the platform is made up four octagonal structures perched on stilts over the reef, with a satellite dish for communications with the Chinese mainland. A Chinese flag flutters high above the platform.

While Philippine military officials reported that Chinese soldiers have been seen on the platform, foreign diplomats and military analysts agreed that it had no value as a military staging area or supply depot. They say the platform was meant instead to serve as a marker of Chinese territorial claims.

< Edited >

The octagonal structure described in the article was, or eventually became, one of only three structures that were established around the periphery of the reef.

Marker in large image Google Earth image Aerial photo
Mischief 1 To be added
Mischief 2
Mischief 3

Daunting PH coastline

There is no clearer illustration of the staggering capability shortcomings of the Armed Forces of the Philippines than a juxtaposition of the Philippine Navy’s theme for 2010: “Naval dominance for 7,107 islands” with its actual capabilities. On paper, a little over 70 boats of various sizes give the Philippine Fleet its maritime patrol capability. However only a fraction of these are actually operational at any given time. Most are relatively small, low-endurance boats. While its larger patrol assets are among the oldest active duty ships in the world, dating back to World War II.

Problems with the availability of hulls-in-the-water are further exacerbated by the impact of currency and market demand upon the price of fuel oil. In 2006, for example, then Naval Forces Eastern Mindanao commanding officer Commodore Ferdinand Golez (who later became Flag Officer in Command of the Philippine Navy) reported that it had to curtail operations due to a hike in operational cost (see Timawa discussion here).  While the specter of malversation is ever present, the rigidity of government budgets is indesputable. Less available fuel means fewer / shorter patrols for the precious few ships that are available in the first place.

While a program of re-capitalizing the fleet, and adding . . . comparatively newer . . . and more capable platforms is underway, full situational awareness throughout Philippine territorial waters and its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) can never be fully achieved with floating assets alone. A radar-based Vessel Tracking System (VTS) of some sort was required to monitor key areas, and then be able to vector whatever limited assets were available to the point of need. Such a system would permit smarter use of limited resources.

To this end, the Philippine Navy has been working for the past 5 years, and will continue for years to come, to build sensor-equipped “Coast Watch” stations at strategic locations throughout the archipelago. A PN press release on the project, dated 2006, describes that program as follows:

. . . provides the Philippine Navy a framework for an inter-agency surveillance and response mechanism for addressing transnational crimes, maritime terrorism and environmental concerns . . . It also offers a framework for developing international cooperation by strengthening established bilateral and regional agreements.

The 2006 AFP modernization report describes the program as follows:

Coast Watch South. Coast Watch South envisions the strategic and near-term development of a comprehensive maritime surveillance and response capability in the Southern Philippines. At present, governance of Philippine maritime domain is being performed by at least 12 departments, 18 line agencies and attached bureaus, five (5) statutory bodies and four (4) other agencies and bodies created for a specific maritime-related concern. While the legal mandates are scattered in various agencies, real capability for surveillance and response reside principally with the PN.
Additional capabilities, albeit limited, also reside in the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) and the Philippine NationalPolice Maritime Group (PNP MARIG). Coast Watch South integrates all currently available maritime surveillance and response capabilities of the major maritime agencies of the Philippines under one operational construct consisting of integrated layers of maritime surveillance capabilities from the coasts towards the outer limits of maritime jurisdictions in Southern Philippines. Coast Watch South is viewed as a template for the development of a national inter-agency maritime surveillance and response mechanism.

The first phase of the program, described above as Coast Watch South, was aimed at securing the country’s porous southern borders along Sulu and Palawan. It also formed the Philippine response to a regional initiative to improve maritime awareness in the pirate infested waters between the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia. The two latter countries actually have their own north-facing equivalents to the Philippine system (Timawa discussion here).

In January 28, 2011, the program reached an important milestone in achieving its inter-agency coordination mandate when the Philippine Navy inaugurated the Maritime Research Information Center (MRIC) inter-agency website for the National Coast Watch System (See here). This facility, whose details have thus far not been shown to the public, reportedly will give other government agencies with maritime concerns comparable, if not identical, information about conditions in Philippine waters.

Based on published reports, the information generated by the system are derived from — but not necessarily limited to — radar, visual, and Automatic Identification System (AIS) data. Statistics released by the navy, the Coast Watch system tracked 29,429 vessels in 2010.

Published news reports indicate that as many as 17 stations are due for completion as part of the Coast Watch South program. Specific locations, and even the appearance, of these stations are not discussed openly, however the 2006 report provides the following insight into where they will initially be deployed:

Existing and future land-based surveillance sensors established in strategic locations along the coasts of Mindanao Island and the Sulu Archipelago shall comprise the backbone of the maritime surveillance system of Coast Watch South. These will be complemented by current surface and air assets of the PN, PCG, PNP MARIG and BFAR. These assets shall be deployed in designated sea routes and patrol areasidentified on the basis of volume of maritime traffic, among other considerations.

Protecting oil exploration efforts\forum discussion:

The current series of Malampaya funded acquisitions for both the Philippine Navy and Philippine Air Force are reportedly driven by the following Presidential Proclamation:

Presidential Proclamation #72


1. An Exclusion Zone in the waters and submerged lands in offshore Northwest Palawan, more particularly described and bounded as follows, shall be for the exclusive use of the Department of Energy and the SC 38 Service Contractor, for the construction, operation and maintenance of the Project facilities:

. . .

6. This Proclamation shall take effect fifteen (5) days after publication in a newspaper of general

City of Manila, July 10, 2001.

With new Service Contracts for different areas within the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) becoming due for exploitation, the Philippine Government has finally awakened to the need to improve the capabilities of the AFP.

The Malampaya Exclusion Zone defined by PP# 72