MANILA, Philippines – When former Office of Civil Defense (OCD) Executive Director Alexander Pama stepped aboard the BRP Tarlac, a rush of emotions flooded his head. The moment was, as he would later describe to OCD officials, “fitting” for someone who had spent more than 3 decades in the Philippine Navy.
The ship, after all, was an idea the Navy had put forward almost a decade ago, and one that Pama had personally staked his reputation on when he was the Navy’s former Flag Officer in Command (FOIC). (WATCH: Lessons from managing disasters)
The Tarlac is the country’s newest and largest military sea vessel and the current pride of the Navy. Measuring 123 meters long and with a maximum carrying capacity of 11,583 tons, the Tarlac can transport heavy equipment, supplies, and troops to anywhere in the archipelago.
It has provisions for 121 crew members and can house up to 500 soldiers. It can also carry up to 3 naval helicopters on its heli-deck and two “baby boats” in its rear hold. No other load-bearing ship in the Navy’s fleet can compare.
The government purchased the ship brand new from Indonesia, based on a modified South Korean design. It’s cost: nearly P2 billion. Another twin ship is currently under construction. This is the latest acquisition under the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Modernization Program during the administration of former president Benigno S. Aquino III. (READ: Aquino and the PH military: Toys for the big boys)
But it’s not the military capabilities of the ship that has Pama excited.
During a ship tour of regional directors and staff of the Office of Civil Defense last June 29, Pama highlighted the ship’s versatility and ability to serve as a one-stop disaster operations center and humanitarian operations base.
He pointed out that, in the event of a major disaster similar to Super Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda), the BRP Tarlac cannot only bring in relief supplies and equipment, but also serve as a hospital, evacuation transport, and a mobile government center where the President and members of his Cabinet can run the government.
The last point is critical in light of a government study that warns of massive damage if a magnitude 7.2 quake were to hit Metro Manila.
“Hindi lang pang giyera, pang disaster pa,” said Pama. (It’s not only for war, it can be used for disasters too.)
Although commissioned into service on June 1, 2016, there is still a lot of work to be done to get the ship up to its full capacity. It lacks a full operating suite, hospital supplies, a medical team, and other equipment that will make it disaster response ready. (READ: Pama’s advice to next NDRRMC chief? ‘Coordination, teamwork’)
The country’s disaster managers are happy, nonetheless, that they have a new asset to utilize should a major disaster occur.
For Pama and his generation of sailors, the BRP Tarlac not only represents a forward-looking Navy but also a new Navy that is taking care of its own people.
Gone are the days, he tells the officers and crew of the Tarlac, when they had to bring their own ice coolers on board and sleep on a banig or straw mat. Tarlac’s sailors can sleep on comfortable beds and in airconditioned quarters, with separate sleeping quarters for the female sailors and officers.
For Tarlac’s officers and crew, the anticipation to carry out their mission is palpable. Like a brand new car, its first drivers are raring to give it a good spin. – Rappler.com
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