Philippines Deploys Warship to Palawan Island, Facing South China Sea

Recent Features

ASEAN Beat | Security | Southeast Asia

Philippines Deploys Warship to Palawan Island, Facing South China Sea

The deployment follows a string of stand-offs between Chinese and Philippine vessels in the disputed seaway.

Philippines Deploys Warship to Palawan Island, Facing South China Sea
Credit: Depositphotos

Earlier this week, a senior official of the Philippine Navy announced that it had deployed a warship off the waters of Palawan Island, its westernmost island, in order to “protect its maritime interests,” at a time of frequent stand-offs with Chinese vessels in the South China Sea.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, Commodore Edward Ike De Sagon said that the BRP Emilio Jacinto, one of the Philippine Navy’s fleet of upgraded Jacinto-class corvettes, had departed for Palawan from Naval Base Heracleo Alano at Sangley Point in Cavite on Tuesday.

Noting that “tensions continue to simmer in the West Philippine Sea and our strategic interests in the region grow ever more vital,” De Sagon, the commander of the navy’s Offshore Combat Force (OCF), said that the ship “will serve as a reminder to all who would dare challenge our sovereignty that we stand ready and vigilant.”

He added that it would also “bolster efforts of safeguarding the maritime domain and interests in the country’s western frontier.”

The needle-shaped Palawan island lies in the west of the Philippine islands, facing directly onto the South China Sea, and is the jumping off point for most deployments to the features and islands that Manila controls in the Spratly Islands.

The deployment of the BRP Emilio Jacinto, which is named after a 19th-century Filipino revolutionary, is a direct response to a year of intensifying tensions in the South China Sea – or the West Philippine Sea, as Manila refers to it – where China has ramped up its incursions into Philippine-claimed waters. Much of China’s attention has focused on Second Thomas Shoal, a submerged feature that lies within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

Over the past year, Chinese vessels have attempted to impede the Philippine Navy from resupplying the troops aboard the BRP Sierra Madre, an old naval vessel intentionally grounded on Second Thomas Shoal in 1999 and since then host to a small contingent of Filipino marines. There have been several incidents in which Chinese vessels have collided with Philippine resupply boats and deployed high-pressure water cannons against Philippine Coast Guard vessels.

Indeed, Beijing’s pressure campaign has prompted Manila to harden its position across the board. It has ramped up its security engagements with its treaty ally, the United States, expanding the U.S. military’s access to nine military bases, up from five previously, including two on Palawan. Manila has also pledged to upgrade the facilities on the nine features and islands that it occupies in the South China Sea, including Second Thomas Shoal, to make them more habitable to the troops that occupy them.

In November, the Philippines also began joint maritime exercises with the United States in the South China Sea. The third iteration of these exercises took place last week, with armed forces chief Romeo Brawner saying that the exercise “demonstrates our commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific, and foster [sic] close cooperation towards further enhancing our maritime capabilities.”

As long as China maintains its pressure campaign, this convergence between the Philippines and its allies and close partners is set to continue.