Asia Defense

What’s in the New Philippines Navy Base Upgrade?

Manila continues to make long overdue improvements in a critical element of its military modernization.

What’s in the New Philippines Navy Base Upgrade?
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Over the past few days, a new round of headlines has surfaced around existing efforts to upgrade a Philippine military facility. Though this is part of an ongoing and long overdue process, it nonetheless bears emphasis as part of Manila’s ongoing military modernization efforts.

As I have noted before in these pages, Philippine defense modernization has long been in the works for a military that remains one of the region’s weakest. Investments have continued to be made under the Duterte government, in spite of some lingering questions, uncertainties, and challenges (See: “The Future of Military Modernization Under Duterte: What’s on the Second Horizon?”).

While the headlines are often focused on new acquisitions for items such as frigates or submarines, the defense modernization process in fact includes a wide range of investments  (See: “Will the Philippines Ever Realize its Submarines Dream?”). One aspect of this that only gets episodic attention is upgrades to existing Philippine military facilities for various purposes, including supporting larger vessels and infrastructure.

One of those facilities is Naval Base Rafael Ramos in Lapu-Lapu City in Cebu. As part of ongoing efforts to upgrade the base, the Department of National Defense (DND) kicked off a bidding process last month, with an approved budget for contract of 1 billion pesos ($18.7 million) sourced from AFP modernization funds, the submission of bids scheduled to last up till July 6, and the entire project expected to be completed in over a year. The upgrades included dredging, roads, slope reinforcement, wharf, beaching ramp, and berthing area.

On July 9, another round of headlines surfaced with respect to the project. Particular media focus was on Philippine Navy spokesperson Jonathan Zata’s comment, which came during an interview with the Philippines News Agency, that one of the key objectives of the upgrades was to facilitate larger vessels, including the present and future South Korean frigates from Hyundai Heavy Industries scheduled for delivery in the coming years.

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Zata’s comment comes as no surprise to close observers. The objective he cited is no doubt important as it would provide these larger vessels, currently anchoring off Subic Bay and Manila South Harbor, with a true home port. Rafael Ramos, despite some drawbacks, also does offer its own specific benefits, including its strategic location in Cebu, provided that those upgrades and improvements are followed through on in a timely manner.

Yet from a broader perspective, lest this be viewed as something new, the fact is that such upgrades had already been in the works. Zata also alluded to this in his comments, noting that the project objectives had long been recognized and that the work was long overdue given where the Philippines is in its military modernization. As the Philippines acquires even more larger vessels, the need to find facilities to host those vessels will become ever more urgent, and the necessity for such projects to proceed on time and without interruption will be ever clearer.