A naval base in Casiguran to monitor Benham Rise. Government seeks to protect East Coast. Joint drills by US- PH troops underway.

naval presence being beefed up.

Pics courtesy: Rappler and Inquirer.net

Pics courtesy: Rappler and Inquirer.net

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The phillipinepride.com had recently reported about the real Chinese threat to Benham Rise that is strategically and economically important. Upon deeper introspection, the Philippines government has decided that the precious territory needs closer monitoring.

Consequently, the first reaction was to conduct visible drills involving United States Marines and troops of the AFP. These drills are quite active in the Aurora Province around Casiguran.

Now, Casiguran is the site for a proposed naval base which will serve as a monitoring station for the area.

Balikatan exercises

These joint exercises are an annual feature going by the name Balikatan that means shoulder to shoulder in Tagalog. It features military exercises involving Troops of the Philippines along with US Marines. In addition, Australian forces also joined the annual drills.

Moreover, Australia also has a Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the Philippines.

The two nations conduct under the Mutual Defense treaty that the Philippines has with the United States. After the independence of the Philippines in 1946, The United States signed the mutual defense treatment in 1951.
The intention was to ensure long lasting peace in the region while protecting each other from external aggression. Initially, the US maintained their bases in the Philippines; they discontinued the same in 1992.

The planning for the Casiguran Naval base is in the initial stages but the project is coming up on a priority basis. The naval base will not only monitor the east coast for military movement, it will also serve during natural disasters.

Casiguran is a town that falls in the way of many typhoons that batter the Philippines regularly. Consequently, with the focus on humanitarian aid and rescue efforts, they conducted Balikatan in this area.

But, the main advantage of this place is its location that enables scouting of the coastline around Benham Rise. To aid in the process of monitoring Benham Rise, it already has a port and an airstrip.

Therefore, it is an ideal place for setting up a naval base.

Defense Undersecretary Cesar Yano explained that the Philippines is developing the area to serve as a monitoring station for the activities in the region.

The background

The Philippines was surprised last quarter when they saw that, in spite of its Filipino ownership, China was frequenting Benham Rise. What was alarming was that Chinese Research vessels had remained on Benham Rise for over three months last year.

Therefore, the first step by the government of Philippines was to introduce intensive patrolling round the clock. Benham Rise is the natural extension of the Filipino continental shelf thus giving its ownership to the Philippines.

It is rich in biodiversity and minerals making it highly sought after. Therefore, China is trying to capture it through all means, foul or fair. Moreover, it is not a disputed territory.

In 2012, the United Nations had awarded Benham Rise to the Philippines since it does not come under the Nine Line claim of the Chinese. But, China has been misusing its might to construct artificial islands. Moreover, it is also constructing military structures on all uninhabited territories.

Benham Rise hotspot located east of Luzon in the Pacific Ocean.

China visits it surreptitiously with ulterior motives. But, all that is about to change; development in the region is envisaged.

However, military spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla clarified that it was not necessarily a reaction to China. The planning for development of the area was not a recent phenomenon; it was ongoing for quite some time.

The navy had plans to set up naval facilities but the implementation had just begun, he said. It had been in the pipeline to construct naval establishments to keep an eye on our waters Padilla stated.

It was also a strategic move to prevent ships going for refueling to Subic or La Union. The eastern seaboard of the nation has been suffering from this shortcoming.

Only two detachments are available in:
1. One in Southern Luzon, and
2. Isabela.

The only naval facility facing the east is at Sta. Ana in Cagayan, located in Northern Luzon.

Hence, we are only filling up the gaps in our security makeup.

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Umrao Singh
Written for: Lars-Magnus Carlsson.
Saturday, May 13, 2017