Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Radars paid for by American military aid are keeping a close watch on Philippine waters to help stem the movement of outlaws, contraband, weapons and terrorists into the country.

With a coastline twice as long as the United States , the Philippines has always been vulnerable from the sea. Umar Patek, a notorious leader of the Jemaa Islamiya, an Al-Qaeda affiliate responsible for the 2002 bombing in Bali , Indonesia fled to Mindanao and was spotted in Sulu in 2009. He was captured in Pakistan last February. It demonstrated how easy fugitives could move in and out of the country’s backdoor.

Coast Watch South (CWS), a string of radar stations in the country’s soft underbelly financed by the US and Australia , is now almost fully operational. Although US funding was coursed through the State Department, the money actually comes from a special fund of the Pentagon.

Based in Zamboanga City , CWS is a joint undertaking by the Philippine Navy, Coast Guard, National Police and the Bureaus of Immigration and Customs. It aims to provide “maritime domain awareness” over 7,600 miles of coastline and about 152,000 square miles of sea, from Palawan all the way to southeastern Mindanao.

The radar stations are located Zamboanga City and the islands of Balabac, Taganak, Lalutaya, Ayungin and Capul. Seven more platforms are under different stages of planning or construction, according to a report by Dr. Peter Chalk of RAND Corporation.

CWS is linked to Philippine Navy ships and planes that can intercept suspect watercrafts in the area. There is a growing demand for fast, hard-hitting patrol boats that can respond swiftly after being alerted by the radars.

The US is scheduled to turn over next month a Hamilton-class all-weather cutter that the Philippines will deploy to the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone and will almost certainly be part of the naval assets available for CWS.

Philippine Navy sources say they are looking for ships like the Hamilton-class that are capable of handling helicopters.

Although the Philippine Navy looks formidable in paper, many of its ships are slow and obsolete and it’s been pressed to look for “force multipliers” that will allow it to perform its varied missions without necessarily acquiring newer ships. Chalk indicated the CWS fits this requirement to a tee.

“The main benefit of CWS is that it provides a relatively cheap system of surveillance for a large expanse of territorial water,” he wrote, “It would be impossible for the Philippine Navy much less the Philippine Coast Guard which is totally bereft of assets to adequately patrol this area.”

President Aquino earlier this month approved P11 billion in new spending for military modernization. Part of that will reportedly go to acquiring new patrol boats for the Philippine Navy and about P40 million for additional CWS radar stations

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