MANILA, Philippines—President Benigno Aquino III is set to fly to Palawan on Tuesday to witness a military show of force amid the country’s raging territorial dispute with Beijing, which is claiming around 80 percent of the South China Sea.
The “capability demonstration” will be held by the Naval Forces West (NFW), described as the Philippine Navy’s “primary operational command securing the West Philippine Sea.”
It will be part of the Navy’s 116th anniversary celebration, which will be held in the naval operating forces for the first time. It is meant to “showcase” the Navy’s plan to develop “its forward operating base in Palawan, facing the West Philippine Sea,” according to a Malacañang brief.
Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said that the NFW has been “at the forefront of territorial defense operations in the Kalayaan Island Group,” some 370 kilometers from Palawan.
“In strengthening the defense mechanisms of our country, the administration makes progressive investments for the long term, leaning forward into the future as we pursue the path to greater national and regional stability,” he said in a statement.
The NFW command center features “secure communications equipment and a satellite-based vessel tracking system,” which would “further bolster our defense capabilities and ensure stability in the area,” according to Lacierda.
Besides the demonstration, the President will also be shown the “conceptual master plan” of Naval Station Carlito Cunanan (NSCC), named after the first naval officer to bolt the Marcos administration and join the EDSA Revolution in 1986.
Lacierda said the NSCC was set for “redevelopment, which includes the rehabilitation of the pier, living quarters, and other support facilities,” following the signing of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the United States.
The deal was closed in time for US President Barack Obama’s April 28 visit to Manila, the last leg of a four-nation Asian swing intended to reaffirm Washington’s support for its allies amid China’s growing assertiveness in the region.
The Philippines’ own dispute with China is reflected in the Navy’s anniversary theme: “Protecting Our Territory, Safeguarding Our Future.”
Aquino will take the opportunity to honor “the sacrifice of our Marines, who have bravely devoted themselves to protecting our territorial and maritime borders.”
“We recognize their hard work and dedication, and in them find renewed inspiration to maintain our commitment to protect our national sovereignty,” Lacierda said.
Marine soldiers stationed at the stranded BRP Sierra Madre—a decrepit vessel serving as a military outpost in waters off Palawan—were also honored in the President’s Day of Valor speech last month.
“Day and night, on board the stranded BRP Sierra Madre, their dedication was anchored on keeping watch over and safeguarding our territory. This is why, together with our veterans, soldiers like them are among those we honor today. The Filipino nation salutes all of you,” Aquino had said.
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