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Navy flagship sheds US identity; videoke onboard

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CAPTAIN OF THE SHIP. Capt. Alberto Cruz mans the bridge of the BRP Gregorio del Pilar, new pride of the Philippine Navy. ALANAH TORRALBA

On the two-week voyage across the Pacific, they would ride out the periods of enforced inactivity with videoke showdowns, the song lyrics flashing on a giant flat-screen. On other nights, they would call out numbers at the mess hall in rounds of bingo for token prizes.

But this was no cruise ship carrying Filipinos returning home from a foreign sojourn.

This was the BRP Gregorio del Pilar, the Philippine Navy’s newest and biggest warship, which berthed at its new home port on August 24.

Aboard the former US Coast Guard vessel that used to patrol the freezing Bering Sea off Alaska, the voltage is still 110 but the heater is never turned on.

“This is like our mother ship. It’s the biggest ship that can be used for any role, any mission. As a flagship, this is the Navy’s pride, our [first] modern ship,” said the Del Pilar’s Captain Alberto Cruz.

The 378-foot Hamilton-class cutter, a 46-year-old hand-me-down from the US Coast Guard, is fast shedding its American identity and taking on a distinctly Filipino mien.

There is a crucifix on most every deck, which comes in the form of a nightlight in the captain’s cabin. The clinic—which would be considered state-of-the-art in terms of Philippine naval standards—has an altar on one corner and a small Philippine flag near the door.

The heavy-duty mess hall is still packed with American-made goods, from French Vanilla or Irish Cream coffee creamer to supersized canned foods. But the kitchen churns out typical Filipino dishes like menudo and chop suey. And of course, creamy fruit salad for dessert.

In the hallways and bulletin boards, US Coast Guard posters are still a ubiquitous presence, but beside them are Philippine Navy memos and duty sheets.

Near the mailbox still marked “US Mail,” there’s a flat screen, a microphone and a thick songbook, so singing sailors are sure to never run out of choices while on long missions at sea.

Attesting to how much the ship has been Filipinized, Cruz said the crew that trained in the US to operate the ship before sailing it home had asked that they be sent a videoke machine.

“When we were sailing in the Pacific, we did the videoke and had a singing contest like “American Idol.” We called it “Goryong Idol,” said Cruz.

Named after ‘boy general’

The Del Pilar was named after Gregorio del Pilar—nicknamed “Goryo”—the flamboyant 22-year-old “boy general” of the Philippine Revolution. Del Pilar was treacherously killed while holding off an entire US battalion with just 60 men at the historic Tirad Pass to facilitate the escape of President Emilio Aguinaldo during the Philippine-American War in 1899.

At 47, Cruz is just a year older than the Del Pilar. But the new Navy warship is already the sixth to be commanded by the captain who completed two prior tours patrolling the waters off Palawan.

The vessel was acquired under the auspices of the country’s Mutual Defense Treaty with the US, which allows the Philippines to acquire decommissioned US defense equipment.

It was transferred to the Philippine Navy through the US Excess Defense Article program, at a transfer cost of P450 million, which was paid out of the Department of Energy’s Malampaya project funds.

Some 95 Navy men underwent intensive training in the US Coast Guard sister ships before starting the 33-day journey to bring the Del Pilar home on July 18 from the US Coast Guard port in Alameda, California.

Cruz said the ship will soon go into dry dock at a shipyard in Batangas for refurbishing, regular maintenance and minor repairs. It will also be repainted in the Navy’s regulation gray.

Weapons system

In welcoming the new star of the Philippine Navy fleet, President Aquino said the vessel would boost the Philippines’ defense capabilities in the country’s exclusive economic zones, including the disputed waters of the West Philippine Sea.

“When he visited, he was just happy that the ship was here, the latest in the inventory of the Navy,” said Cruz.

“We really need more assets in Palawan, considering there’s a big area to be patrolled. That’s why this is a big help,” he added.

Before it was turned over to the Navy, the Del Pilar’s modern weapons systems were removed and only basic armaments were left on board, according to weapons officer Lieutenant Ronald Paras.

What remains of the ship’s defense system is a deck-mounted 76mm/62-caliber main canon at its fore, flanked on either side by an antimissile system called the MK 36 Super Rapid Bloom Offboard Countermeasures Chaff and Decoy Launching System.

The Navy plans to install 25mm chain guns in the ship’s rear, six mounted 50-caliber guns and two 20mm canons, Paras said.

Bigger responsibility

The Del Pilar, until recently the largest class of vessel in the US Coast Guard, is definitely a major boost to the country’s Navy fleet, often derided as a collection of aging World War II-era warships, according to Cruz.

“In terms of equipment, everything you need is here: firefighting, navigation and other tools and, of course, accommodations,” he said. The vessel can accommodate up to 180 crew members.

Powered by gas turbines, a first in the Navy’s diesel-fed fleet, the vessel can reach speeds of 28 knots and stay at sea without refueling for up to a month. It is equipped to quickly deploy troops to pursue enemy vessels through onboard rubber boats.

“Now that we have a bigger ship, we have a bigger responsibility,” said Cruz.


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  • Anonymous

    Stupid commentaries. Even u load with the most advance missile system kung iisa lang sya wala rin. Be patient guys at this moment no threat yet but they are slowly purchasing ships and fighter jets. Then when u have complete force then you can arm it with sophisticated weapons.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_WYAZBOJYIUCRLWTYJBORBVTTOI boyfarmer

    The ships mission is to patrol West Philippine sea, report on intrusions and defend itself when necessary. It is not meant that it fights alone. We need modern fighter planes on standby in Palawan or Clark. Perhaps the AFP is discussing American response in case of attack from outsiders pursuant to Philippine American Mutual Defense Treaty. Maybe, they already have contingency plans. The Chinese assertiveness on West Philippine sea only gave justification for USA to project its military might in this region and will surely be patrolling this sea lanes making their presence a deterrent for china to attack the Philippine ship. If they do, there will be an American response.

  • Reynaldo Cunanan

    This ship is not a match with the Chinese frigates! The Phalanx CIWS was removed prior to transfer. No defense against aerial attacks by planes and missiles.  Against surface attack, she only has the 76mm canon with an effective range of 13 miles. The Chinese frigates Jiangnan, Jianghu, and Jiangdong Class have twin 100mm canons that can hit targets at 22 km. Care to ask the Vietnamese what happened to their ships during the Mar 14, 1988 encounter with these frigates at the Johnson Sound Reef? Three Vietnamese ships went downed with a loss of about 88 men.  Again, care to comment PN officers?

    • Anonymous

      You’re exactly right with your info, but who said that we are to confront the Chinese with this frigate in case of conflict?  It is equipped with modern Videoke/karaoke and our boys are really  training seriously with this equipment. In the event that tension flares up they’ll just challenge the Chinese in a “karaoke singing contest”… HA!HA!HA!

  • rem zamora

    nice story tarra!

  • Anonymous

    Mr.Pnoy do not deploy this with out mounting proper missile system; please this is not a joke when this deploy in Palawan it should in need of the following CIWS anti ship missile, 20mmcannon not fitted to this ship. remember China has give his warning through media about paying the price, take this seriously, Rep Roilo Golez is US naval graduate and his recommendation is very vital for the sailors protection:
    You have to take an account of what Mr. Golez said before deploying this ship in Spratly.

  • Anonymous

    Ask the US to reinstall the Phalanx GoalKeeper and it sound safe this ship to patrol the area.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_LXXKGPGUOKAMXTJEHT6AII4APA Michael

    There may be plans to install the RAM in lieu of the Phalanx CIWS. The RAM has greater range and better accuracy and with upgraded software can act as the ship’s SAM.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_LXXKGPGUOKAMXTJEHT6AII4APA Michael

    PNOY also hinted that Anti-Ship missiles will be installed in the future.  Since the Hamilton was modernized during its FRAM upgrade in the 80’s, it can be equipped with the Harpoon missile.  Besides, it has a helipad and a hangar.  The Navy can get a helicopter that can be armed with Anti-Ship missiles (e.g. Penguin) like the Oliver Hazard Perry class in the US Navy (the missile launchers from the Perrys were removed).



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