Linggo, Mayo 26, 2013

My Tour: PH Biggest and Fastest Warship

Lo and Behold: The massive starboard of the BRP Gregorio de Pilar (Photo: Mortz C. Ortigoza)


The last time I boarded a water vessel was in Burnham Park in Baguio City when I was a tot. Thanks to the intercession of Commander (Lieutenant Colonel) Julius E. Valdez my fancy about water craft was rekindled again in May 2 (Pangasinan’s Pistay Dayat) when he allowed me as member of the Fourth Estate and my son Nico as my photographer to document my presence in the “big boys’ toy” Barko ng Republika ng Pilipinas  (PF 15) Gregorio del Pilar- the largest and fastest frigate the Philippine Navy  presently possesses.
“You should be here at 6 o’ clock in the morning for the rubber boat ride to the ship,” Valdez (PMA Class 1994) , the operation officer of the ship who sat on a portable chair under a huge canvas with his staff, told me around 4 P.M when I signified to him my intention to board the ship.
“Oh, this is the very ground where General Douglas “Dug-out Doug” MacArthur and entourage passed by when he led the liberation of Luzon from the Japanese,” I told Lieutenant Senior Grade (Captain in the Army) Robert Baylon as I gazed curiously at the black figure of the former USS Cutter Hamilton moored roughly six kilometers away from where I stood.

Fellow sightseers and Niko (Extreme Right)

 25 minutes rubber boat bumpy ride to BRP del Pilar

When we returned the following morning the enlisted personnel there, who was holding the manifest list of passengers, finally called me and Nico to join the queue of 23 men, women and children to board one of the three huge orange rubber boats lent by the provincial government’s Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.
Alert navy guys helped us strap to ourselves the orange life jacket.
As I jumped at the rubber boat the lower parts of my jeans was slapped and soiled by the big waves.
Geez,I could not attend the presidential visit of President Aquino at 10 A.M because of this. I should have worn a short pant as advised by my wife,” I told some of the excited passengers at the boat.
The rubber boat ride was rough and tumble as the morning waves were high. But I was still amazed at the sites of the majestic coastlines of Lingayen, Labrador and Sual towns as we cruised the 25 minutes bumpy ride to reach the foremost Philippine Navy’s juggernaut.
After 5 minutes, the looming beauty of the 378 feet wide gargantuan now gray BRP del Pilar has imposed itself to us. Its starboard were long and massive with the 76mm Oto Melara gun and Mk92 FCS menacingly crowned on its deck.
If it took us some jumpy foot works and pirouetting in the water to spare our pants to get wet before we embarked to the rubber boat 25 minutes ago, clambering the gangway or sea ladder located at the port of the ship was  next to suicidal what with the 36 feet deep water below us. We have to muster trapeze artist liked talent for us to jump from the rocking boat to the stair by holding the extended hand of Navy personnel who was standing on a platform at the side of the ship.

Q & A: Asking  Commander Daza  (R) some nitty gritty of the ship

Meeting Colonel Daza

Before the tour guide led my fellow rubber boat passengers to the different compartments of the ship, LTJG Jojit Ofiaza told me that Commander Valdez radioed him to accompany me and Nico to the commanding officer’s reception room for my interview with Commander Socrates M. Daza, who is the “mistah” or classmate of Valdez at the Philippine Military Academy.
Inside the hall was another LTJG, clad in a khaki uniform that I asked to get the name of my blog site at the bottom part of my column so they can read online my article on the BRP del Pilar.
I gave him too a dozen of the hard copies of Northern Watch Newspapers for the 150 officer and enlisted men of the ship to browse as they sail to different parts of the archipelago.
As I sat at the seemingly expensive huge black leather couch as I waited for Daza, I was impressed about the walls and the floor made of woods and the portraits of Philippine Revolution youngest General del Pilar, President Aquino, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, and the Navy Flag Officer in Command Vice Admiral Jose Luis Montano Alaño that embellished one of the walls.
I shook hand with the khaki clad Cmdr Daza, as we exchanged some pleasantries particularly when he was still a cadet at PMA and where I was also personnel of the Academy’s public information office.
“To avoid “surprises” colonel the following would be my queries before you answer my questions,” I told him.
Hangar: Daza toured me at the retractable helicopter hangar

The following were the excerpts of my Q & A with Daza, the ship executive officer:

Mortz  C. Ortigoza (MCO): Can Sokol or Augusta Westland AW109 be accommodated by the helicopter stern  of the 3,340 tons BRP del Pilar?
Daza: I am not familiar with the characteristic of the Sokol but I think it can be accommodated if we can accommodate the UH1H Huey, it can accommodate that too (Sokol).
MCO: You always bring BO 105 helicopter when you travel? I did not see one on the helicopter deck.
Daza:  We only put a BO 105 during a mission.
MCO: In Scarborough and Spratly Islands?

(AUTHOR’S NOTE: According to my research, fast helicopters are deterrent to attack nuclear and non nuclear submarines which may be faster than surface warships. For this task the helicopter is equipped with sensors such as sonobuoy, wire-mounted dipping sonar and magnetic anomaly detectors to identify possible threats, and torpedoes or depth-charges to attack them).

Daza: Yah.
MCO: Can this ship accommodate four BO 105s?
Daza: We accommodate I think two where one is in the retractable hangar. But they could not stay here long because they are vulnerable to the elements.
MCO: Is this ship susceptible against Chinese jets or ships that carry Exocet - type Chinese made YJ-8 anti ship missile?
Daza: I think lahat naman hindi lang ito kundi all ships kahit sa ibang bansa vulnerable. What matter is the training of my crew.
MCO: Is this ship has a Surface to Air Missile (SAM) just like what China and Taiwan possessed?
Daza: Ah, sa ngayon wala ako sa liberty na sabihin iyan. I’m not on that level (to answer).
MCO:  Is this ship possesses a Harpoon and the weaponries that are attached to the BRP Ramon Alcaraz that would be coming this August?
Daza: So far wala pa.
MCO: Do you have here MK 38 close-in weapon system.
Daza: Wala pa, pero papunta tayo doon  as part ng transformation ng AFP modernization.

(AUTHOR’S NOTE: In the  Philippine Navy’s 15-year Strategic Development Plan,  Lt. Commander Nerelito Martinez, Philippine Fleet acting chief of staff for plans and programs (F5) said last year that the country will be buying six frigates configured for anti-air warfare, 12 corvettes designed for anti-submarine warfare; 18 Offshore Patrol Vessels (OVs) that will compose the backbone for naval patrol.
To effectively address naval underwater and mine warfare, the Philippine Fleet planners came up with a proposal for the procurement of three submarines and three Mine Counter Measure Vessels (MCMVs).
For its amphibious, sealift and auxiliary services requirements the “Fleet Desired Force Mix” concept, Martinez said that the Navy fighting force should have four Strategic Sealift Vessels (SSVs) capable to move one brigade of Marines amphibious force or any ground force and its support system; 18 Landing Craft Utility (LCU), three Logistics Support/Replenishment Ship (LSS), three Ocean tugs, six Yard/Fire Tugs which would provide critical support warships in docking and undocking.
In Interdiction and Special Boat Operations (ISBO), the Fleet is also eyeing additional procurement of 12 Cyclone class Coast Patrol Interdiction Craft (CPIC), 30 Patrol gunboats, 42 Multi-Purpose Assault Craft (MPACs) and 24 Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats (RHIBs).
For its Naval Air Operations, the Fleet is also looking forward to the acquisition of eight Amphibious Maritime Patrol Aircraft (AMPA) needed for maritime air surveillance, 18 Naval Helicopters embarked aboard frigates and corvettes and eight Multi-Purpose Helicopters (MPH) embarked aboard the SSVs.)

MCO: May mga escort din ito (BRP del Pilar) whenever it goes for a mission?
Daza: Depende sa mission. Escort destroyer, meron tayong mine sweepers.
MCO: Does it carry Anti Submarine weaponry?
Daza: Ah, wala ako sa liberty to answer.  I’m sorry.
INTERCEDED: Commander (Lieutenant Colonel) Julius E. Valdez
Lieutenant Senior Grade Robert Baylon (2nd and 4th from Left 

respectively) initiated that I could board the warship for
an interview with top honchos there

My tour at the BRP del Pilar

“Amoy C-130  ang aircon ng barkong ito,” I told him as the ship’s walls and ceilings, abound with bundles of wires and tubes, have been similar in sight and smell with that of the C-130 cargo plane I rode for the umpteenth times when I was a boy because of my air force father. 
Daza told me that the cool ventilation in every compartment was powered by 2000 liters a-day diesel fuel. He told me that the cutter carry two truck loads of fuel tankers on its belly.
After the interview he toured me and Nico to the nook and cranny of the 54 years old warship. He showed me the air conditioned non-officer's quarter that accommodates four personnel in their double –deck beds that were covered by canvas for each one’s privacy.
“Geez, just like the VIP “kubol” (cubicle) of prisoners in Muntinlupa,” I quipped.
The officer’s quarter was a luxury as each of them has their air-conditioned room.
He showed us too the laundry room where huge industrial washing machines and dryers wait for the dirty clothes of the personnel there.
It has a desalination machine that converts sea water for the personal use of the folks there.
He said PF 15 can travel back and forth economically at 17 knots from up to 9,600 miles without refueling with its diesel fuel at its home port in Subic Bay in Zambales to the disputed Spratly Islets.
The ship can travel faster by 28 knots (Note: One knot is 1.852 kilometers) per hour as it is powered by its two 18 thousand horse-power aircraft gas turbine jet engines.
He brought me to the mini-theater with books in the bookshelves.
“We got here four mini libraries and a gym,” as he opened the steel liked manhole cover for us to peek on the gym in the lower deck.
Lt. Colonel Daza said the books (mostly fiction) were donated by the American government.
 Daza brought us to the bridge (cockpit for an airplane) for us  to see the gadget that determines the fathom of water where the ship berths.
“How many feet is one fathom?, I posed.
“6 feet,” he said
Outside the front wind shield of the bridge, he pointed to me the 76mm Oto Melara gun with Mk92 FCS.
“See how big its bullet?” he posed to me.
“They are much bigger than the night stick of a policeman,” I reacted.
He said the gun shoots in automatic motion.

Aye Aye Captain: The ship commanding officer Commander Joe
 Anthony C. Orbe (Extreme Left).

Meeting the ship’s Commanding Officer

As we went back at the reception hall, the ship commanding officer CMDR Joe Anthony C. Orbe, PN (GSC),clad in khaki too, was partaking his morning breakfast  composed of boneless bangus probably bought by his crew in Lingayen.
Sir, this is Mortz of the media. He used to live near the batsoyan of Zan-Su (Susan the one who ran the Batchoy restaurant at PMA franchised by retired Colonel Orlindo Caiingoy- my province mate in Iloilo)”.
“You got good woods here at your reception hall, colonel. The black leather sofas were huge and classy.  Were they bankrolled by our navy?” I posed to Obre whom I was told is waiting this year for his promotion to Navy Captain (full Colonel) according to my brother, a member of the Corp of Professors, who met him at PMA in the mid 1990s.
Obre told me those woods and couch were still part of the package when the former U.S Cutter was sold for US$13 million (Php450 million, a bargain) to the Philippine government in early 2011 under the Foreign Military Sales (FMS).
Son of a gun, even the post card like colored pictures being given to the sight seers by navy men were still from the Americans as the paint of the ship there was still white with a “U.S Coast Guard” boldly painted in black on its bulk head and the ship’s feature that says Hamilton interdicted weapons smugglers off of South Vietnam and fired more than 4,600 rounds of naval gunfire in support of U.S and Vietnamese troops ashore, Hamilton directed the interdiction of over 21,000 Haitian migrants throughout the Caribberan , to name a few at its back page.

Free Coffee Treat  exclusively for me and Nico from the house
while dizzy tourists nursed their vertigo.

Bidding Goodbye to the Crew

After exchanging some pleasantries with Lt. Colonel Obre, PMA class 1992, I told them that I should be back at the mess hall pronto lest my group would leave me with their rubber boat.
“I dread swimming six kilometers from the ship to the shore”
As we waited for our rubber boat while the Navy guys showed us their humorous rituals’ video on their 2O inches Sony flat screen TV I heard donated too by the Yanks, somebody swiped a finger on my back shoulder.
 “Sir, ito na po iyong coffee niyo as you requested from Commander Daza”.
“Oh thanks, the sergeant at the shore was correct when he told me that my presence here would be business class,” I quipped.
Yes Virginia, it was VIP since I got a coffee in a mug painted with the coat of arms of the Philippine Navy while the rest of the passengers stared blankly through the window outside as they nursed their sea sickness without a benefit of a coffee to mitigate their pain.
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Off from the Ship's Clinic: Some of the lady tourists who were struck by nausea