By Aaron Recuenco
The Philippine Navy has sent 400 of its personnel on board a recently-acquired amphibious war vessel to participate in the founding anniversary of China’s naval force next week.
Capt. Jonathan Zata, head of the Naval Public Affairs Office, said the BRP Tarlac is expected to arrive at Qingdao, China and will join the other naval forces of Asia and other foreign countries for the main celebration of the 70th Founding Anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army-Navy (Chinese PLA-Navy).
The delegation, according to Zata, is composed of a helicopter detachment, some cadets of the graduating class of Philippine Military Academy (PMA) 2019 and student officers of various naval training programs under the Philippine Navy.
The delegation, he said, is headed by Navy Capt. Francisco Tagamolila.
“During their stay, the contingent is scheduled to participate in courtesy calls, professional exchanges, shipboard reception and tour, friendly games and cultural exchanges during their stay in China,” said Zata.
For his part, Navy Flag-Officer-In-Command Vice Admiral Robert Empedrad said that the decision to send a contingent to China is part of the Philippine’s commitment to ensure a peaceful, stable and rules-based order in Southeast Asia.
The Philippines and China, along with some countries in Southeast Asia like Indonesia and Vietnam, are locked in an intense territorial dispute in the South China Sea, locally referred to during the Aquino administration as West Philippine Sea as part of asserting sovereignty in the disputed territories.
While the Aquino administration dragged China to the international court and eventually won the case, the Duterte administration has shifted its policy of being friendly to China.
But the recent activities of China in the West Philippine Sea, which includes sending militia forces and harvest of giant clams in the Scarborough Shoal, made the Duterte administration to change its tune.
“It is the Philippine Navy’s way in undertaking a calibrated and nuanced engagement process with the People’s Liberation Army Navy in an effort to build trust between two professional navies,” said Empedrad.
“I am confident that such process will receive welcome traction and will definitely evolve to a more open and friendlier relationship towards that extra step in addressing bilateral concerns on the ground in a more trustful manner,” he added.