New PH warship heads to Spratlys

by Henni Espinosa, ABS-CBN North America News Bureau

Posted at Jul 20 2011 02:09 PM | Updated as of Jul 21 2011 03:05 AM

ALAMEDA, California - Ninety-five Filipino sailors proudly boarded the Philippines' newest and biggest warship, Barko ng Republika ng Pilipinas: Gregorio del Pilar, at the U.S. Coast Guard in Alameda, California on Tuesday.

In a send-off ceremony attended by Filipino-American leaders, the Philippine Navy personnel concluded their five-month stay in America.

"We miss home. We miss our family and loved-ones," said crew member Geovanie Baylon.

More than missing home, these Navy men are excited to bring this ship to the Philippines. They say the BRP Gregorio del Pilar has the capacity to defend and protect the Philippine seas and its territories.

Rear Admiral Alexander Pama, Philippine Navy Flag Officer-in-Command said: "We think this is more symbolic in a sense that we are now transitioning from the kind of Navy we had before--not so much on the people--but on the capability that we have."

The former Hamilton-Class US Coast Guard cutter was acquired by the Philippines from the United States, under the US Excess Defense Act last May for more than $10 million.

The ship has 5 floors and boasts of a helicopter flight deck and a retractable hangar.  

Malacañang said the 3,000-ton ship will patrol the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), close to the disputed Spratly Islands.

"Being soldiers, we are ready to defend the Philippines," Captain Abet Cruz said. "That is part of our job."

The US Pinoys for Good Governance has held protests against the Chinese government's activities in the Kalayaan Islands, a Philippine-claimed territory in the Spratlys.

These Fil-Am leaders said they're confident the new warship would be able to defend the Philippines, should tensions there increase.

Following the acquisition of BRP Gregorio del Pilar, officials said the Philippines plans to acquire 2 more ships from the US as part of President Aquino's commitment to upgrade the equipment of the country's Armed Forces.

It will take another month or so for the BRP Gregorio del Pilar to reach Philippine shores.