President Rodrigo Duterte is set to sail to Philippine Rise on May 15 and 16 to commemorate the renaming of Benham Rise to Philippine Rise and to send off a team of scientists who will conduct maritime scientific research in the area.
The President is expected to sail aboard BRP Davao del Sur, the largest and among the newest assets of Philippine Navy.
“The 9-ship flotilla sailing with aircraft fly-by’s will probably be the single largest coordinated mobilization of the Philippine Navy and Philippine Air Force in recent years, possibly its first major operation in the open waters of the Pacific Ocean,” said Jay Batongbacal, the Director of UP Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea.
However, Batongbacal said “in the aftermath of the administration’s incredibly effete response to news of China’s expanding military reach in the West Philippine Sea, engulfing the air and sea around the Kalayaan Islands and Palawan, the [Philippine Rise] ceremony instead marks the administration’s folly.”
“Philippine air and sea control stands to be diminished in the West Philippine Sea, yet the flag is waved on the other side of the country, in the Pacific Ocean, where there is no similar threat? Rather than a flag-waving, in this context it seems almost a flag-retreating,” he added.
Batongbacal said if President Duterte “wants to be taken seriously and not become the object to ridicule, he should indeed push through with the ceremony: the naval flotilla and aerial show remain modest but important symbols that this is a modernizing Armed Forces of the Philippines.”
He added that Duterte “should maintain solemnity and pay tribute to the men and women in uniform who sacrifice and endure to guard our waters and our lands, despite their limited means, and promise them and his countrymen, of present and future generations, that he is not trading away what they are trying hard every day to protect.”
“There is one additional thing that PRRD can do: he should show some grit and at least try to show that he is not leading the country into vassalage under China, in the same way that the Armed Forces of the Philippines, through the current Balikatan Exercises, is thumbing its nose at China’s creeping assertions by conducting amphibious landing exercises,” he added.
“From the ceremonies at sea, PRRD should get on the Navy or PCG C-90 aircraft at Casiguran and be on a Maritime Air Patrol, escorted by FA-50s, all the way to the Kalayaan Islands and Scarborough Shoal. That is how he should wave the flag, from the Pacific Ocean to the West Philippine Sea,” he said.