Poro Point, La Union – The Navy has merged its two regional units guarding the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) to boost efficiency in handling maritime issues, a ranking official said Thursday.
Naval Forces West, whose area of operations includes the disputed Kalayaan (Spratly) Island Group, was merged with Naval Forces North, whose area covers Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, Captain Albert Mogol told reporters here.
The merger was a result of Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin’s directive of “addressing a common threat,” Mogol said.
The unified naval group, activated July 6, is now known as Naval Forces North-West.
It has its headquarters in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan, and operates Task Force 41 from there, while Task Force 11 commanded by Mogol is based here.
Task Force 41 now handles all areas in the West Philippine Sea including Panatag Shoal, while Task Force 11 retained “traditional roles” like patrolling waters of Northern Luzon.
“It’s now the country’s biggest naval task force, [covering] five regions and 24 provinces,” Mogol said of Task Force 41.
Under one command, troops and ships can be easily sent to respond to incidents such as poachers operating off Luzon then speeding away towards Palawan.
“What we want is a more efficient command and control against a common threat,” Mogol said.
The official declined to reveal how many ships and troops are now under Naval Forces North-West, saying only that a “sufficient number” had been dedicated.
‘Eye in the north’
Meanwhile, Mogol said the Navy has also set up an identification system in Batanes to monitor foreign vessels entering the country.
Marines are manning the “littoral monitoring detachment,” which shares a building with the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration outpost since March, he said.
“We have already an eye in the north,” Mogol said, declining to give further details.
Maritime security issues in Batanes flared recently, after the Philippine Coast Guard said Taiwan counterparts engaged them in standoffs near the northern island province. (John Roson)
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