Philippine Navy Moves to New Home in Subic Bay

The new base faces the disputed West Philippine Sea.

Less than two weeks before the inauguration of President-elect Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., the Philippine Navy (PN) has begun occupying its new home at the former Hanjin shipyard in Subic Bay Freeport in Zambales.

The Navy formally took possession of the shipyard facing the disputed West Philippine Sea—the official Philippine name for part of the South China Sea—when the missile frigate BRP Antonio Luna (FF-151) docked at the facility that was repossessed from the bankrupt South Korean shipbuilder. 

The event, led by Philippine fleet commander Rear Adm. Nichols Driz, jumpstarted the operationalization of Naval Operating Base (NOB) Subic. 

“The activation and subsequent operationalization of NOB Subic are in line with the Navy’s scaled-up maritime operations to support the needed base services of the deep-draft vessels such as Jose Rizal-class frigates, Del Pilar-class patrol ships, and Tarlac-class landing docks,” the Philippine Navy said in a statement sent to the Maritime Fairtrade.

“The newly activated base will house select fleet marine units, maintenance and replenishment facilities that will enable the fleet to sustain the operational requirements of the current and future capital vessels,” it added. 

The Navy’s takeover of the Hanjin shipyard was one of the conditions for the entry of the American investment firm Cerberus Capital into the former US naval base via its local subsidiary Agila Subic. 

The former facility of South Korea’s Hanjin Heavy Industries in Subic Bay, Zambales. 
Line handlers patiently waiting for the mooring line of BRP Antonio Luna (FF-151) at the former Hanjin shipyard.
Securing the first mooring line of the BRP Antonio Luna (FF-151) at the port of the former shipyard.
BRP Antonio Luna (FF-151) docks at the former Hanjin shipyard. 

Strategic move 

In recent years, the Navy had been planning to purchase capital ships but had no proper facilities to dock and maintain them, according to Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.  

The Navy ships docked at the commercial South Harbor, which could not accommodate the number of large vessels that are being added to the Philippine fleet.

“But recently, the Navy got the northern part of Hanjin. The Navy is happy because they have a place of their own where they can park their capital ship,” Lorenzana said during the Philippine Navy anniversary.

NOB Subic is a vital component in the navy’s modernization plan, according to the Navy. The former US naval base, which reverted to Philippine government control in 1992, is located about 260 kilometers from the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal in the West Philippine Sea. 

According to retired Navy chief Giovanni Carlo Bacordo, who was part of the negotiations for the deal, the shipyard is strategic because deep-water harbor and its proximity to the West Philippine Sea. 

Rolen Paulino, chairman of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority that supervises the port, also mentioned in an earlier interview that the shipyard has become more important due to its strategic location.

The rest of the Navy fleet may move into the base within the year, according to Paulino. 

Commander of the Philippine Fleet, Rear Admiral Nichols Driz is welcomed by side boys honors during the symbolic docking of the Jose Rizal-class frigate, BRP Antonio Luna (FF-151) at the port of former Hanjin shipyard in Subic, Zambales. 
Captain Charles Merrick Villanueva (left), Commanding officer of the BRP Antonio Luna (FF-151), and Rear Admiral Nichols Driz, Commander of Philippine Fleet, with the docked vessel in the background. 

PH Navy joins the world’s largest naval exercise 

Meanwhile, the Philippines will participate in the upcoming US-led Rim of the Pacific (Rimpac) exercise, scheduled from June 29 to August 04, in Honolulu, Hawaii. 

Rimpac 2022 is the 28th exercise in the series that began in 1971. Around 25,000 personnel from 26 participating countries are set to join the exercise this year. 

The Navy’s participation this year highlights the Navy’s intention to be more involved in international exercises.

“It also resonates with the orientation of the PN’s intention to raise the level of its involvement in international defense and security engagements,” PN chief Vice Admiral Adeluis Bordado said during the send-off ceremonies for the Antonio Luna. 

“Rimpac’s theme indicates a positive interdependent relationship among nations and the cooperative nature of managing maritime security,” he said. 

The Naval Task Group (NTG) 80.5 will serve as the Navy’s representative of the exercise and will consist of Navy personnel on board the Antonio Luna. 

The task group embarked for Oahum Hawaii from NOB Subic on June 8 and Bordado was elated that the Philippine Navy has become a multi-capable maritime force. 

“The Philippine Navy is now more capable. We are also more adaptive and attuned to the changing geopolitical landscape. More importantly, we are now steadily seeking to engage more like-minded partners to contribute to a stable and peaceful maritime space in the Indo-Pacific region,” he said, using the United States term for the region. 

The command’s participation in Rimpac 2022, themed “Capable, Adaptive, Partners,” will be its third. It first joined Rimpac in 2018 and then again in 2020. 

The Rimpac exercise is held biennially and aims to promote regional stability in the Pacific region. This year’s iteration is scheduled to include 27 naval forces all across the globe. 

All photos credit: Philippine Navy. Top image: The Navy ship is being welcomed to the tune of martial music while it is about to moor starboard side to the pier. 

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