MANILA - The Philippines on Thursday formally received one of 10 patrol vessels provided by Japan through an official development assistance loan to help boost Manila's maritime capability amid its territorial disputes with Beijing in the South China Sea.
The 44-meter multi-role response vessel, which will be named BRP Tubbataha and assigned to the Philippine Coast Guard, was built by Japan Marine United Corp. in Yokohama and funded by a loan of 7.3 billion peso ($158 million) from the Japan International Cooperation Agency. The Philippine government is providing an additional 1.4 billion pesos for the 10-vessel project, which is expected to be completed in 2018.
"In the past few years, we have all been witness to the growing and evolving challenges that the Philippine Coast Guard is facing, and the maritime community and the sea-traveling public also had to face. Who could forget the devastation and horror brought about by supertyphoon Yolanda (Typhoon Haiyan, in 2013)? Who would not be angered by violations committed against our maritime laws that sometimes resulted in maritime accidents or even casualties? And who could afford to take the bullying of our fishermen within our maritime jurisdiction?," Philippine Coast Guard chief, Rear Adm. William Melad, said at the welcome ceremony for BRP Tubbataha.
"These instances have reverberated the call for a modern and equipped Philippine Coast Guard that can speedily respond to cries for help and engage in rescue and rehabilitation efforts, one that has technical capability to match...against poachers, smugglers, human and drug traffickers, and one that can stand up for the country's citizens against maritime bullies," he added.
Coast Guard spokesman Armando Balilo said that, once commissioned, the BRP Tubbataha is likely to be deployed on patrol missions in the West Philippine Sea, the part of the South China Sea where the Philippines claims jurisdiction.
The Philippines has long complained against China's aggressive assertion of its claims in the South China Sea and its driving away of Filipino fishermen from Scarborough Shoal and energy survey ships at Reed Bank. The two features are within the 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, based on the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
After seeking international arbitration in 2013, the Philippines last month successfully debunked China's nine dash-line claim over almost the entire South China Sea, and also received legal affirmation for its fishermen, as well as those of other nations, to fish around Scarborough Shoal. The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague also scored China for causing massive damage to the marine environment in the South China Sea as a result of its reclamation and construction activities on some disputed features.
While it does not officially take sides in the South China Sea disputes, Japan has criticized China's behavior and urged respect for the rule of law and peaceful settlement of disputes. Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Taiwan also have overlapping territorial claims in the South China Sea, a busy sealane for international trade believed also to contain substantial deposits of oil and natural gas.
Aside from the maritime vessels, Japan has also agreed to lease up to five Maritime Self-Defense Force TC-90 training aircraft to the Philippines.