MANILA, JUNE 3, 2013 (PHILSTAR) By Jaime Laude - The Philippine Navy will have its first missile-firing capable warship with the scheduled arrival of BRP Ramon Alcaraz, a decommissioned United States Coast Guard cutter the government has bought.

Defense and military sources said yesterday the Alcaraz (PF-16) is due to arrive in the country either by July or August. It has been fitted with anti-ship harpoon missiles.

“Her weapon system is heavier and more sophisticated compared to her sister ship, the BRP Gregorio del Pilar,” sources said.

Aside from harpoon surface-to-surface missiles, Alcaraz is armed with 76mm Oto Melara automatic cannon, two 25-bushmaster guns and heavy machineguns.

The BRP Gregorio del Pilar is only armed with 76mm Oto Melara gun when it was acquired in 2011, with the defense and military leadership spending more to enhance its capabilities.

Alcaraz has already completed its three-day sea trial off South Carolina where it underwent major engine repairs and refurbishment for several months before it was turned over to the Philippines last year.

“With the arrival of our second Hamilton-class cutter, converted into a frigate, the Navy will have its first missile-firing warship,” a military official said.

Alcaraz weighs 3,250 tons, has a length of 378 feet, beam of 43 feet, and draft of 15 feet.

Its propulsion systems consist of two diesel engines and two gas turbine engines, giving it a top speed of 29 knots.

When deployed, Alcaraz, with a total of 167 officers and men complement, will have a cruising range of 14,000 miles and can stay in the high seas for 45 days.

‘No guarantee that results of Phl, Taiwan probes will match’ By Rey Galupo (The Philippine Star) | Updated June 2, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - There is no guarantee that the results of the probe by the National Bureau Investigation (NBI) on the May 9 fatal shooting of a suspected Taiwanese poacher off Batanes will match those of Taipei’s own investigation, according to NBI Director Nonnatus Caesar Rojas.

In press a conference Thursday night, Rojas said the results of the NBI’s investigation would be based on the agency’s own assessment and evaluation of evidence and of interviews with those involved in the incident. He said the NBI team shared evidence with its Taiwan counterpart “in the spirit of openness and cooperation.” Members of the Taiwanese probe team were present in the press briefing.

Before returning to Taipei yesterday morning, the Taiwanese prosecutors declared that their findings would be included in the murder complaint filed by a daughter of slain fisherman Hung Shih-cheng against members of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG).

The death of Hung triggered a public outcry in Taiwan and soured relations between the Philippines and the territory. Taipei said President Aquino’s apology for the incident was not sincere.

Days after the incident, Taipei ordered restrictions on the hiring of Filipino workers.

The NBI team in Taiwan led by Danny Daganzo spent its last day at the territory’s Criminal Investigation Bureau cross matching the bullet casings collected from the PCG vessel with the slugs gathered from the Taiwanese fishing boat.

The Taiwanese team in Manila, on the other hand, inspected the weapons used by the PCG, viewed a two-hour video footage of the incident, and examined the vessel used by the PCG men. The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) owns the vessel.

The Taiwanese also interviewed PCG personnel involved in the encounter with the fishing boat.

“I would like to reiterate that through our seamless cooperation in the co-operative investigation, we will achieve the goal to bring the people responsible to justice, for their criminal and administrative liability depending on the respective findings,” Taiwan investigator Yang Wan Li said.

The Taiwanese on Thursday said they were able to gather the evidence and information they needed and thanked the NBI and the Department of Justice for assisting them.

Ready for anything

The PCG, through spokesman Commander Armand Balilo, said it is ready to accept whatever findings are established by the NBI.

“We have a high regard for the NBI and whatever the outcome may be, we would accept it. We will respond accordingly,” Balilo said.

He said the PCG had been very cooperative with the NBI as shown by its readiness to turn over 17 firearms as well as make available its officers and men for interviews with investigators.

The eight-man NBI team returned from Taiwan last Friday to wrap up its investigation. The investigators will submit their report to the DOJ next week.

Meanwhile, the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) said Taiwan appreciates the support from US lawmakers for its position on the May 9 incident. TECO said the US lawmakers signified their support through congressional statements, letters, and press releases.

“They support the measures taken by the ROC government in handling this incident, and urge the Philippines to positively respond to Taiwan’s demands and extend condolences to the family of the deceased fisherman Hong Shih-cheng,” TECO said.

US Rep. Steve Chabot, chairman of the subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific of the House committee on foreign affairs, had also expressed his concerns over the incident to acting assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific affairs Joseph Yun in a hearing on May 16.

Rep. Ed Royce, chairman of the House committee on foreign affairs, also reportedly voiced his support for Taiwan in an interview with ETTV America and World Journal on May 19 during the Taiwanese American Heritage Week.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is very grateful to the US senators and congressmen for giving their backing over this incident, as well as for their consistent support over the years,” TECO said. – With Evelyn Macairan, Pia Lee-Brago

China 'concerned' Phl will build structures in Ayungin Shoal By Alexis Romero ( | Updated May 29, 2013 - 4:35pm

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Chinese Ambassador talking about the Ayungin Shoal issue in an informal talk in Camp Aguinaldo. (Photo by ALEXIS ROMERO)

MANILA, Philippines - China is concerned that the Philippines might build structures in Ayungin Shoal, an area well within Manila’s exclusive economic zone.

China, notorious for building structures in disputed areas it is claiming, raised the issue during an informal talk between Chinese Ambassador Ma Keqing and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin in Camp Aguinaldo on Wednesday.

Gazmin, however, said the government is just sending ships in the shoal to provide supplies to soldiers monitoring the area.

“They (China) were concerned that the Philippines is coming up with structures, additional structures in the Ayungin Shoal,” the defense chief told reporters in an ambush interview.

“I told her (Ma) that the ship that is moving towards Ayungin Shoal is only for provisions of food and water for soldiers who are there,” he added.

China’s move came as a surprise as it seems to be questioning the Philippines’ actions in its own territory.

The Philippines, however, assured China that is has no plans to build infrastructure in Ayungin Shoal in an apparent effort to deescalate tensions.

“We will not violate the agreement by building new structures. We said we will just bring provisions, supply like water and food and personnel there,” Gazmin said.

“The ships are also for the rotation of troops. We cannot place people there permanently. They’ll go insane,” he added.

Chinese envoy initiated the talk

In an ambush interview, Ma evaded questions about West Philippine Sea issues, claiming that her talk with Gazmin was just about the relationship between China and the Philippines.

“We also talked about the balanced relations. I think China is ready to develop cooperation and very good exchanges between the two sides because this year is the year of friendly exchanges between our two countries,” the Chinese envoy said.

“We are ready to promote the cooperation and exchanges between the two countries,” she added.

When asked whether they talked about the Philippines’ diplomatic protest against China, Ma said: “Sorry, I really I have to go, see you later.”

Ma initiated the informal talk with Gazmin, which lasted for about 10 minutes. She sought audience with Gazmin on the sidelines of the celebration of the Peacekeepers Day in Camp Aguinaldo.

Sources said Ma seemed to be determined to meet with Gazmin, who took her to a corner of the Armed Forces Commissioned Officers Club.

“I’d like to talk to the secretary. I have a message for him,” Ma was quoted by a source as saying.

Nobody heard the conversation between Gazmin and Ma, who appeared serious in explaining their points. They, however, were seen smiling at each other as they parted.

Ayungin Shoal is 105.77 nautical miles from Palawan and forms part of the Philippines’ 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone.

It is part of the Kalayaan Island Group off Palawan and is one of the areas occupied by the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea.

On May 10, the Philippines filed a protest against China for its illegal deployment of vessels around the shoal.

The protest decried the provocative presence of two Chinese maritime surveillance vessel and one warship around the area, which constitutes a violation of international law.

China claims virtually the entire West Philippine Sea while the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and Taiwan have overlapping claims in the area.

Chinese tightens grip in West Phl Sea

China has been asserting its claims in the West Philippine Sea by building structures in disputed areas in a move that raised concerns among other claimants in the region.

It has built a military garrison in the Mischief Reef or Panganiban Reef, one of the areas being claimed by the Philippines.

Mischief Reef, which is about 70 nautical miles from Palawan, has been occupied by China since 1995.

China initially built structures on stilts at the reef, supposedly to provide shelter for fishermen but these were later on transformed into a military garrison with powerful radars.

China has also installed a powerful radar station in Subi Reef, an islet 12 nautical miles southwest of Pag-asa Island, which is part of Kalayaan Island. The Chinese began constructing the four-story structure, including a lighthouse about seven years ago.

China has also sent ships around the Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal), another Philippine-owned area located124 nautical miles from the nearest base point in Zambales.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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