Maiden voyage of PH's most capable warship

MANILA, Philippines — It's the Philippines'most capable warship and the Philippine Navy was preparing something a little grander for its maiden travel. But all plans were dropped because of Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan).

It was a low-key christening and commissioning event for BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PF-16) on Friday, November 22, before it sailed for its maiden voyage as a Philippine Navy ship from South Harbor in Manila to Leyte in Eastern Visayas, which was hit hard by Yolanda.

"In light of the devastation caused by super typhoon Yolanda, there is no better way for BRP Ramon Alcaraz to commence her duties with a very first mission and that is to sail to the Visayas as part of the Phillippine Navy's follow-on-force to conduct humanitarian assistance and disaster response in the affected areas," said Navy chief Vice Admiral Jose Luis Alano. 

Alcaraz transported about 200 tons of relief goods, water purification systems, and navy personnel composed of carpenters, masons, plumbers and electricians who will help rebuild the communities.

The twin ship of Alcaraz, BRP Gregorio Del Pilar, is already in Leyte working along the warships of various militaries around the world, whose ships and aircrafts are augmenting the limited assets of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. 

Initially scheduled in October, the commissioning ceremony was postponed to wait for the availability of the commander in chief, President Benigno Aquino III. It pushed through on Friday without him.

"Today, we'll commission BRP Ramon Alcaraz into the active service of the Philippine Navy. She will be utilized to undertake missions for territorial defense, law enforcement, humanitarian assistance and disaster response," Alano said in explaining Alcaraz's mission.

The mood was somber, far from the elaborate celebration last August when the 40-year-old refurbished Hamilton-class cutter arrived in the Philippines from the US. The Philippines acquired it from the US Coast Guard, which has decommissioned the ship. 

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin started the program 30 minutes earlier than scheduled. 

LOW-KEY: Commissioning rites for BRP Ramon Alcaraz. Photo by Carmela Fonbuena/Rappler

LOW-KEY: Commissioning rites for BRP Ramon Alcaraz.

Photo by Carmela Fonbuena/Rappler

In his speech, Gazmin cheered on the soldiers amid criticism of governmen't response to Typhoon Yolanda. Also the chairman of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), Gazmin has been criticized by Senator Juan Ponce Enrile for failing to deploy enough troops to the devastated areas.

"Perhaps you may have already heard a number of comments to our government's response to Typhoon Yolanda. There are some groups who are fostering negativity on purpose to discredit each action the government takes and to render meaningless the determination of soldiers, policemen and even volunteers who are quitely doing their part and working to help their countrymen," Gazmin said.

"I hope that you will not lose your resolve. I hope that you will not lose heart. You are the ones at the frontline," he added.

After the event, Gazmin proceeded to NDRRMC.

In spite of the low-key ceremony, the excitement among the sailors was palpable.

“By having two of the most capable ships that we will be having, this will provide us more areas to be able to cover simultaneously," Alano said.

Alcaraz is off to Leyte for now but its real job is to monitor the West Philippines Sea (South China Sea) amid the growing tension between Manila and Beijing.

Alcaraz will be augmented with naval helicopters, which are arriving next month. The choppers will expand the surveilance and the horizon that the Philippine Navy can monitor. — Rappler.com