Manila to upgrade navy base as it acquires ships amid China dispute
The Philippines would upgrade a navy base facing disputed South China Sea waters to serve the extra ships being acquired to protect its territory, the military said yesterday.
Navy spokesman Lieutenant-Commander Gregory Fabic said the military would build a 500-million-peso (HK$87 million) port at Ulugan Bay, the Philippine military base nearest to the Spratly Islands, known as the Nansha Islands by China.
"It is being programmed for capability upgrade ... we need to develop it to house the big vessels of the navy," he said.
President Benigno Aquino was set to visit the base on May 20 to launch the upgrading, Fabic added.
The base, on the west coast of Palawan island, is the headquarters of naval forces guarding the waters on the west of the archipelago.
In recent years, the Philippines has been locked in an standoff with China involving disputed reefs and islands in the Spratlys and other areas of the South China Sea.
Under a programme designed to improve the capability of one of Asia's weakest military forces, the Philippines has been acquiring naval vessels to create what the government described as a "credible deterrent" to protect its territorial integrity.
The navy has acquired two refurbished American coastguard frigates in the past two years, and they now lead patrols in the South China Sea.
The navy wants to acquire up to six more to guard the country's coastline effectively, armed forces chief of staff General Emmanuel Bautista said in January.
In 2012, the Gregorio del Pilar, one of the two refurbished frigates, confronted Chinese ships on Scarborough Shoal, a group of tiny, rocky islets just off the coast of the country's main island of Luzon and called Huangyan Island by China.
Beijing gained control of the outcrop after Manila backed down. Manila then sought UN arbitration to settle the dispute, a move rejected by China.