MANILA, Philippines – Department of National Defense (DND) Undersecretary Eduardo Batac denied on Friday that the country was sending its largest warship, BRP Raja Humabon, to the disputed Spratly Islands in the West Philippine Sea.
Batac claimed the Navy ship was merely doing a "routine patrol" of Philippine waters and was not dispatched as a direct response to reports that China had deployed one of its biggest civilian maritime patrol vessels in the area.
While Batac assuaged fears that tension in the resource-rich Spratlys might boil over, he acknowledged that the Coast Guard and the Navy have increased their activity in the area to deter possible incursions by other claimant countries.
"The Chinese vessel is not a warship. So that is a bit of consolation. Now, they are patrolling their territorial waters, and we are patrolling our territorial waters. We can't stop them from doing that," said Batac.
The undersecretary said it is obvious that the Philippine Navy is behind its Asian neighbors in terms of equipment and capability.
The Raja Humabon is the current flagship and the largest warship of the Philippine Navy.
However, it is also one of the oldest active warships in the world, first commissioned in 1942.
Batac said that the stunted development of the Philippine Navy, and indeed, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, is largely a function of limited national resources.
Of the P330 billion earmarked for the AFP Modernization Program, only P32 billion have so far been delivered, claimed Batac.
"We have to live with that," he said. "Hindi tayo nagtatapang-tapangan. What we are pushing for here is a diplomatic resolution."
In the next few months, however, the Navy will be able to deploy its large Hamilton-class patrol craft that was recently purchased from the United States.
Batac said the vessel will probably be sent to the Spratlys as well.