MANILA (UPDATE) -- For the second time, President Benigno Aquino III paid tribute to the 9 Philippine Marines who served in Ayungin Shoal for 5 months during the change of command rites at the Philippine Navy.
“Sa araw nga pong ito, napapaligiran tayo ng magigiting na Pilipino. At sa tuwing mapag-uusapan ang tibay at dedikasyon ng ating Hukbong Dagat, isa po sa agad kong naiisip ay ang mga marino nating idinedestino sa Ayungin Shoal, upang bantayan ang ating teritoryo. Sinasagad nila ang kakayahan na ipinagkaloob sa kanilang kagamitan. Imbes na magdahilan at magreklamo, ang naging tugon pa ng ating mga kawal: ‘Walang problema. Iyan talaga ang aming tungkulin’,” President Aquino said.
Aquino lauded the "can do" attitude of the Marines despite the obstacles they faced on the stranded BRP Sierra Madre, noting that what was meant to be a 2-week mission dragged on for months because foreign vessels chased away ships carrying their replacements.
“Malamang, narinig na rin ninyo ang balitang ito: May siyam na marino tayong itinalaga sa Ayungin Shoal, na pinamunuan ni 1st Lieutenant Mike Pelotera. Tatlong buwan lang dapat ang duty nila doon, subalit inabot sila ng halos limang buwan. Ang dahilan: paulit-ulit na hinarang ng ilang dayuhang sasakyang-pandagat ang barko ng Navy na sakay ang mga kawal na sana’y rerelyebo sa kanila; tila ba pilit tayong itinataboy sa teritoryong atin naman talaga,” he said.
Aquino first praised the Ayungin Marines during the Araw ng Kagitingan celebrations.
He said he was reminded of the performance of the 9 as he was mulling over the performance of the retiring Navy Flag Officer in Command (FOIC) Jose Luis Alano, who, according to Aquino himself, showed excellent performance.
Alano was the FOIC during the time the 9 Marines were marooned on the BRP Sierra Madre.
“Pero paglingon natin sa pagtimon mo sa Philippine Navy, wala akong masasabi sa ipinakita mong gilas: Kahit patong-patong na pagsubok ang hinarap natin, ni minsan ay hindi ko narinig mula sa iyo na hindi kakayanin ang anumang misyon,” the President said.
The President said the choice of an FOIC was crucial considering the maritime challenges the country faces.
The Philippines is currently in a maritime dispute with China.
The dispute took center stage during the just concluded state visit of US President Barack Obama.
The Philippines also just signed an agreement allowing for increased rotational presence of US troops in the country.
Aquino reminded the new FOIC that his own performance will be remembered.
Rear Admiral Jesus Millan of Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Class 1982 takes over from Alano, who retired compulsorily.
Meanwhile, Aquino also took an apparent swipe at his predecessor, noting that the Navy used to have ships like a "bangkang papel," and now it has modern ships.
“Kung babalikan nga po natin: ‘Di po ba’t parang kailan lang, nang tila mga bangkang papel ang tanging bumabaybay sa ating mga daungan? Ngayon, mayroon na tayong dalawang Cutters na nangunguna sa pagpapatrolya sa ating karagatan: ang BRP Gregorio del Pilar, at ang BRP Ramon Alcaraz. Nariyan din ang BRPTagbanua—ang kauna-unahang landing craft utility na gawa sa ating bansa,” he noted.
The bangkang papel was a symbolism used by then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in her first State of the Nation Address (SONA).
Millan is the 34th chief of the Navy.
Prior to his retirement, Alano was conferred with a legion of honor award by Aquino, commander in chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
It was during Alano's term that the 2nd Gregorio del Pilar class frigate, BRP Ramon Alcaraz, was commissioned into the service; 3 brand new naval helicopters, the Agusta Westland were acquired for the Naval Air Group; 6 small unit riverine craft were acquired for the Philippine Marine Corps; and 3 major tankers donated by the Philippine National Oil Company.
Millan, on the other hand, was the commander of the Naval Forces Western Mindanao.
He also served as chief of the Naval Staff, commander of the Naval Reserve Command and commander of the Naval Air Group.
Aquino presided over the change of command rites at the Navy headquarters in Capt. Salvo Pier, Sangley Point, Cavite City on Wednesday.