MANILA, Philippines (Updated) – The third warship from the US, BRP Andres Bonifacio (FF 17), arrived in the Philippines on Friday, December 9, after a 38-day voyage across the Pacific Ocean.
"The maiden voyage of FF17 was essentially a litmus test of her machineries and newly installed communication and navigation equipment, a test of teamwork and coordination among her crew. And finally, a test of teamwork between the crew and the ship herself," said Captain Brendo Casaclang, the commander of the ship.
It is the 3rd former US Coast Guard vessel acquired by the ill-equipped Philippine Navy.
Capable of staying long periods of time in the rough seas, the 378-feet vessels with cruising speed of 29 knots are the navy's most capable ships pending the delivery of 2 brand new frigates acquired from South Korea.
The 88-man sailing crew – composed of 14 officers, 68 enlisted personnel, and 6 support crew – left Alameda, California on November 1 after 3 months of training in the US. It made port visits in San Diego, Hawaii, and Guam.
The acquisition of the newly decommissioned US Coast Guard ship USS Boutwell was one of the commitments of US President Barack Obama when he visited the Philippines in 2015.
The ship was acquired for free under the Excess Defense Articles grant, but the Philippines had to pay for the refurbishments.
It arrived with a 76 mm Oto Melara, 2 25mm Bushmaster, and 4 Cal. 50 machine gun.
It arrived as a white ship on Friday but will be painted gray later. Navy chief Vice Admiral Mercado said it will be ready for deployment by the first quarter of 2017.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana led the arrival ceremony at the South Harbor in Manila.
"Sometime ago I was talking with the flag officer in command (FOIC) and I said, 'Maybe we should start decommissioning several of the World War II ships that the US gave us after the war," Lorenzana said in his speech at the arrival ceremony for BRP Andres Bonifacio. (READ: PH to decommission World War 2 ships)
Newly arrived US ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim also attended the ceremony. He said the transfer of the warship highlights the commitment and friendship between Manila and Washington.
"The Bonifacio is more than just a ship. She is a perfect example of our partnership. Her presence today is a reminder that when our friend and ally has a requirement, the United States answers the call without hesitation," Kim said.
All 3 warships from the US were acquired during the administration of President Benigno Aquino III, who protested China's aggressiveness in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) and filed a historic arbitration case against the military superpower. The international tribunal junked China's sweeping maritime claims.
The purchase of the 2 brand new warships was an initiative of the former administration, too, but was completed by President Rodrigo Duterte. It's the first major military modernization contract signed under Duterte. – Rappler.com