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MANILA, Philippines -- The Scarborough Shoal standoff between Manila and Beijing has betrayed the need for a strong Philippine Navy capable of asserting national sovereignty in disputed waters, House Deputy Majority Leader Roman Romulo said Tuesday.
“Effective diplomacy is the best approach to disagreements over our territorial waters. A stronger Navy will surely reinforce our diplomacy,” said Romulo, a senior member of the House foreign affairs committee.
Unfortunately, he noted, decades-long internal armed conflicts have kept the Philippines from developing a robust Navy, which Romulo said “is supposed to be absolutely imperative for an unusually large archipelago with more than 7,100 islands.”
Instead of being “primed to ward off potential foreign aggression, our Armed Forces have been wholly geared up to suppress domestic dissidents. This is why we have a big Army, but a small Navy,” Romulo said.
The AFP troop strength is divided thus: Army, 80,000; the Navy, 26,000; and the Air Force, 17,000.
The Philippines has been fighting communist rebels on one hand and militant Islamist groups on the other hand for decades.
Owing to prolonged local strife, Romulo said the Philippine military has been forced to grow in another direction.
“We’ve developed a bulky infantry trained to fight on foot local dissidents in our mountains and jungles. Sadly, this was achieved at the expense of building an adequate Navy, or a passable Air Force for that matter,” Romulo said.
What makes the situation ironic, he said, is that “the Philippines is one of the five biggest archipelagos in the world, along with Indonesia, Japan, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. Yet, we also have one of the smallest and most poorly equipped navies in the world.”
“We really have to build up our Navy. Even our non-archipelagic neighboring states such as Malaysia and Thailand have naval forces that are more respectable than ours,” Romulo pointed out.
The Philippine Navy’s largest warship -- the frigate BRP Gregorio del Pilar -- is no more than a 45-year-old decommissioned US Coast Guard cutter. The ship was retrofitted and gifted to the Philippines last year under America’s Excess Defense Article Program.
Two maritime surveillance vessels from China prevented the flagship Del Pilar from accosting a group of Chinese fishermen found poaching in Philippine waters near Scarborough shoal on April 10, triggering the standoff.