The Archipelagic Imperative

A Comprehensive History of the Philippine Navy The History of the Philippine Navy etches the evolution of maritime thinking among Filipinos. It is the chronicle of the rise of national consciousness on the importance of the seas that surround and traverse the scattered islands of the Philippines. It is the saga of a people coming to terms with the dire imperatives of the geography they have been born in, a geography they have been born in , a geography that is dictated not so much by land as it is by water, for better or for worse.

The story of the Philippine Navy is, in a sense therefore, the story of the nation itself. Although standard Filipino textbooks on geography and the social science include the cliché that the Philippines has a coastline longer than that of the United States, which has the world’s most powerful navy, there has been— perhaps even to this day – only a token appreciation of the maritime pressures that come with having 12,500 nautical miles of coastline. The recognition has come belatedly because of the urgent environment and geopolitical challenges facing the country’s marine territory and its resources. Why the recognition has come late is perplexing. To be sure, the Philippines has had a long history of occupation by foreign powers, all of them coming in from the maritime backdoor. Spain was the impregnable naval power of its day. It had to yield it’s last colonies like the Philippines top the United States in much the same way it had earlier shed off some measure of its military invincibility in the face of challenges by its imperialistic rivals: through a battle to the death on the seas. The United States itself announced its johnny-come-lately imperialistic intent by taking the high seas. Capt Alfred Thayer Mahan developed the doctrine of the United States as a naval power, and the American leadership seemed to have agreed with him when it sent ships to fight Spain for a share of the world’s vanishing forest of colonies. Today, the US is unchallenged on

the seas, its naval bases at home and abroad so positioned as to reflect its strategy of forward deployment and to project American power worldwide for both allies and foes.

Until recently, the Philippines hosted the biggest overseas naval facility of the US. But decades of playing innkeeper to American troops and ships seemed not to have significantly changed the deficient state of maritime consciousness in the country. The Filipinos have imbibed just about everything American—from hamburgers to Hollywood movies—except maritime correctness. Even at the height of American involvement in Vietnam, in which the Philippines played a not-so-paltry role in the U.S. strategy of communist containment by hosting the US bases, there were still many Filipinos who took the sea for granted. And even after the retreat of the Americans from Vietnam and the beefing up of Cam Ranh Bay by the communists, Filipinos could afford to defer any sea-change in maritime thinking. Surprisingly, the basis for complacency was also the basis for alarm. Filipino leaders could point to the as reason for their confidence that nothing untoward was going to happen. “We had the advantages of an insular country”, recalls retired Rear Admiral Simeon M. Alejandro. “There was wide span of water between Vietnam and the Philippines.” Today, the statement of geographical fact should not be taken as a license for complacency. In the first place, it is ironical that while two-third of the earth’s surface is covered by water, the oceans remain a daunting frontier for knowledge. The United Nations in fact has declared 1998 as the Year of the Ocean in order to urge people to deepen their understanding of the sea, specifically on how global weather patterns and other environmental phenomena are influenced by what goes under it. Filipinos should do no less in acquainting themselves with the seas around them. They should reflect on how the seas have played an important role in fashioning a nation that was the first in Asia to declare its independence from western colonialism. And they should reflect on how the seas will continue to play a significant role in the challenge of nation-building. The reckoning comes at a most propitious year, 1998: the Centennial of the Philippine Independence, the United Nations’ Year of the Ocean, and the Centennial of the Philippine Navy. ARCHIPELAGIC RIDDLE

If there’s one motif with which to explain the logic of Philippines history, it is the quest for unity amidst the barriers of culture and geography. But since the Philippines is an archipelagic country, it can be said that even cultural divisions have geographical determinants in them. In this respect, the country's archipelagic make-up and the difficulties of integrating the scattered islands to one sovereign unit , is not alone a political conundrum, it is also a maritime riddle.

Starting in the 1950s, the Philippines had insisted on the recognition of the archipelagic concept as part of public international law. The Philippines only managed to win recognition of the concept three decades later when the United Nation Convention on the Law of the Sea was signed. The Convention recognized an archipelago as an integrated unit in which “ the islands, waters and other natural features form an intrinsic geographical, economic and political entity.” But it has been easier to get the archipelagic concept into the international statutes than to have its ramifications on naval defense and marine development be appreciated by Filipinos. This is puzzling considering a key lesson in history: the fate of the Philippines since time immemorial has always been closely linked with the sea. The first Filipinos were Malay fisher, hunter and unsettled cultivators from Southeast Asia who came to be the islands in frail boats. Settling in the coastal areas, they traded regularly with merchant boats from China, Borneo and the Malay Peninsula. They themselves fitted their own ships and went on trading voyages across Southeast Asia.

The marine factor was aver present in Spain’s long rule in the Philippines. Many times, Spain’s occupation was challenged by European power and just as many, Spain retained its hold on the colony through decisive naval engagements the against the invaders, some of the victories achieved in the face of great odds that were nothing short of miraculous. Spain also fortified towns to protect them from Muslim marauders who came on vessels of great maneuverability to kidnap Christians and sell them to the slave trade in the south. Spain also established shipyards where Filipinos showed an innate talent for shipbuilding. It carried out the famed and profitable galleon trade between Manila and Acapulco that opened the Philippines to the world – and many of its modern ideas that sowed the seeds of nationalism and independence among educated Filipinos. It is not surprising then that the first Filipino – that is , the first one to have ever conceived of Filipino nationhood – was also student of seapower. Jose Rizal (1861-1896) grew up in the lakeshore town of Calamba in Laguna de Bay, the country’s largest lake. True to his beginnings, Rizal opened his second novel El Filibusterismo with a scene in a steamship navigating its way in the Pasig River toward Laguna. Rizal seems also the first Filipino to have recognized the crucial part a navy plays in uniting the islands. He established the short-lived La Liga Filipina exactly to unit Filipinos scattered over the archipelago into one, homogenous body. Apparently taking heed from the admonition of his European friend Ferdinand Blumentritt that an insurrection without a navy would not succeed considering the Philippines’s insular character, Rizal rejected an armed rising as contemplated by the Katipunan , calling it premature. He probably had never personally met Rizal, but Emilio Aguinaldo (1869-1964) of Cavite shared Rizal’s view on the need to unify the islands though a working navy. Like Rizal, Aguinaldo was a tagalog , the abbreviated from of taga-ilog, river denizen. He also evolved appreciation of seapower because he was born in province that hosted a big Spanish naval base. We do not know if he also agreed with Rizal that a revolution was premature at that time, but the fact is that Aguinaldo joined the Katipunan. When the secret society was discovered by authorities, he took to the battlefront despite the movement’s poor arms and general unpreparedness. Although Aguinaldo won

most of his battles on land, he came around early to the conclusion that the Filipino nation could not be properly called so without a navy to bridge the wide divide of cultures owing to the island’s unique to topography.

Aguinaldo’s recognition of the naval factor is illustrated in the Biak-na-Bato Constitution ( framed in 1897 in San Miguel ,Bulacan ) that called for Philippine separation from Spain and envisiond the creation of a Supreme Consisting of the President, vice-president, secretary of foreign affairs, secretary of war , secretary of interior and secretary of finance. Among others , the council was authorized to organize “privateering and issue letters of marque and reprisals”. This meant that the government could license privately owned and operated vessel to prey upon enemy vessels, in this case, Spanish ship , for the prosecution of the war. The English version of the Biak – na – Bato constitution – apparently done during Aguinaldo’s exile in HongKong after the signing of the truce with the Spaniards –clearly showed his intent of forming a navy. Mention is made of a navy to be created “(w)hen the necessary army is organized … for the protection of the coasts of the Philippine archipelago and its seas; then a secretary of the navy shall be appointed and the duties of his office added to this Constitution.” In appears then that his Hong Kong exile afforded Aguinaldo a keener appreciation of the marine factor. In fact, Aguinaldo used the reprieve to buy arms and equipment for the revolution. One of the orders he made was for a “motor launch to be used as a nucleus of an interisland transport system “ in order to hasten the movement of his troops and to expand t6he Revolution beyond the Tagalog Region. The recognition came also because of an exigency. The United States had declared war on Spain over the controversial Maine episode in Cuba. In fact, upon reaching Hong Kong, where the US naval force was passing en route to Manila, Aguinaldo was requested for a conference by US officials and asked to return to the Philippine to resume the war of independence against Spain.

Meanwhile, Commodore George Dewey had defeated the Spanish force led by Admiral Patricio Montojo on Manila Bay on May 1, 1898. On May 19, Aguinaldo arrived in Cavite on board the American vessel McCulloch and conferred later with Dewey aboard the Olympia. Dewey had known fully well he did not have enough forces to captured Manila and he needed Aguinaldo’s help to keep the arrival of American reinforcements. And so Dewey assured Aguinaldo of American support and handed over to him the small pinnace from the Reina Cristina, Admiral Montojo’s flagship. The vessel was quickly name Magdalo in honor of Aguinald. On May 20, Aguinaldo had the Philippine flag hoisted on the ship which was allowed by the Americans on Manila Bay to sail from coast to coast. Thus the Magdalo became the first vessel of the Revolutionary Navy and probably the bearer of the Philippine flag, antedating even the flag’s first exhibit and proclamation as official symbol of the nation on June 12, 1898, when Aguinado formally declared Philippine Independence. Today, May 20 is celebrated as the foundation day of the Philippine Navy.

THE SHORT – LIVED NATIONAL NAVY One can make important readings – cosmic geopolitical of Dewey’s act of handing Aguinaldo the first vessel of the insurgent navy. Although Aguinaldo was not naïve and was forever evaluating American intentions on the Philippines, he must have known he was playing with fire in drafting American support to the independence movement. That Dewey hed to repeatedly urge Aguinaldo to go back to his men and “ not to give up” the war now sounds like a Mephistophelean temptation, with Aguinaldo striking the classic Faustian bargain in asking for US support to the Revolution. And if he were giving the American the benefit of the doubt, was the pinnace that he cloaking its planter’s dark intent owes to its incorrigibility. But the American advance to the Philippines was not surprising . Like the Spaniards centuries before them, the Americans had to wrest the Philippines through naval means.

For the moment , however , Aguinaldo had his nascent navy consisting of the Magdalo and other steam launches captured from the Spaniards. Refitted for war, these vessels would help the revolutionary cause by moving troops, arms and supplies to distant provinces. To be sure , they play a decisive role in the insurgency as, for example, in the raid on Bacoor Bay against the Spanish garrison and the Spanish powder magazine, Which naval historians now call the first amphibious assault of the Revolutionary Navy. The fleet was reinforced by merchant ship such as the Taaleño, Balayan and Purisima Conception that had been donated to the insurgent forces. Another key addition was the Compania de Filipinas, the 800 – ton Spanish steamer belong to the Compania General de Tabacos. The vessel had been seize by a mutinous, largely Filipino crew under the fiery Cuban Vicente Catalan who hoisted the Filipino flag and proclaimed himself “ Admiral of the Filipino Navy.” The mutiny and seizure of the ship became an international cause celebre when the Germans objected to the Filipino flag and the French demanded the ship ‘s return to them, claiming they actually owned it. Despite the diplomatic blacklash from foreign power, the international incident drew attention to the increasingly aggressive campaign of the Filipino to oust the Spaniards and establish an independent republic. For his part, Aguinaldo tirelessly pursued the unification of the islands under the revolutionary government by deploying the naval fleet to various parts of the country to engage the Spanish force and rally Filipinos behind the insurgency. The expeditions became virtual caravans for independence and fires of nationhood to every part of the archipelago. No more could it be said that the movement for independence that was started by the katipunan was merely confined to the Tagalogs. Aguinldo’s military successes and the widening swathe of territory being won by the insurgents buttressed the June 12 declaration of independence. On June 23 , he decreed the establishment of a revolutionary government , which created the Department of Foreign Relations with the bureaus of diplomacy, navy and commerce under it. But he delayed the organization of the navy and commerce bureaus in order to concentrate on diplomacy and to win over the power into recognizing Philippine belligerency. But as tension with the Americans grew following the fall of Manila on Aug. 13, Aguinaldo created the Bureau of Navy on Sept. 26 and appointed Pascual Ledesma as its first director. The Navy was strengthened by the Malolos Constitution that was passed on Jan. 21, 1899 which made the President of the Republic the commander in chief of the army and the navy, and transferred the Bureau of navy to the Department of War, which thereby became the Department of War and Navy. So successful was the Revolutionary Navy in Prosecuting the war against Spain that, ironically enough, Aguinaldo paved the way for the swift American conquest of the islands. One American observer years later would write that the Filipino forces so successful in their war against Spain that “the only job for them (the Americans) was the capture of Manila. “ Predictably enough, Dewey’s first acts of provocation were navy- inspired. In October 1898 he started confiscating steamers and launches flying the Filipino

flag. There followed a naval blockade to limit further operations of Aguinaldo’s forces. The decimation of the Revolutionary Navy was the beginning of the end for the independence movement. Superior American forces eased out the poorly financed and ill-equipped Filipino troops from the positions they had won from Spain. Aguinaldo turned to guerrilla warfare, but he was in constant flight until he was captured in Palawan in 1901. With their hope of independence extinguished by the Americans, Aguinaldo’s dream of a nation, unified by a strong navy, was shattered. NAVAL DEFENSE DOCTRINE The consolation seems to have been that Filipino maritime skills were developed during the American era. Even when the insurgents were still carrying out their guerrilla war, the Americans created the Bureau of Coast Guard and Transportation for the maintenance of peace and order, the transportation of constabulary troops, and the guarding of the coastline against smuggling. Many Filipino seamen were integrated in the bureau and others were employed in other naval-related divisions of agencies such as the Bureau of Customs and Immigration, Bureau of Island and Inter-island Transportation, Bureau of Coast and Geodetic Survey, and Bureau of Lighthouses. Earlier, the Americans had reopened the Escuela Nautica de Manila (later renamed Philippine Nautical School) where Annapolis methods were gradually introduced. Annapolis itself accepted its first Filipino recruit in 1919. Filipinos were also enlisted to the US navy, as they had been before to the Spanish navy. As a result, Filipinos began to imbibe the American naval tradition. They also learned US naval doctrine which today a great grandson of Emilio Aguinaldo, Annapolis- trained Lt. Joseph Abaya of the Philippine Navy describes as “power projection, projecting the flag as something intrinsic to the navy mission.” The making of the naval defense doctrine seem to have been carried out in earnest during the Commonwealth Government. But since war clouds had started to appear at that time due to the first stirrings of Japanese expansionism, the Commonwealth Government of Manuel L. Quezon started office on frayed nerves, rushing the passage of a national defense bill to ensure the security of the country. Drawn up by Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who had been named military adviser to the Commonwealth by Quezon, the national defense plan was quickly adopted by Congress and signed by the President, but not after being subjected to the crucible of public debate which revolved mainly around its alleged poor insights on Philippine naval defense requirements. MacArthur’s defense plan, which became Commonwealth Acct No. I, called for the establishment of the Philippine Army. But it seems to have discounted the critical need to have an effective air force and navy in order to ward off invaders even before they touch land. Although the plan called for the formation of an “off-shore patrol” (composed of high-speed, torpedo- launching

craft) as the marine division of the Army, it formed mainly from the ranks of reservists. Critics of the plan were not impressed. Joseph Ralston Hayden, the vicegovernor general, disagreed that the motor boat patrol and army bombers would be able to deny the use of territorial waters to hostile surface craft. “ That a relatively small fleet of armed speed boats would be a serious problem for the Japanese navy is, at least, doubtful,” he said, adding that such craft could not operate effectively in rough waters. Most important, the plan, according to Hayden, disregarded the possibility of a worthy strategic naval defense for an archipelagic country. He said, “The main coastline of Luzon could logically repulse any external force, but the remaining two-thirds of the archipelago, considering its inadequate defense, would be predisposed to easy predatory attacks.” Camilo Osias of the National Assembly summed up the critique on the MacArthur-Quezon defense plan. “In order to have adequate national defense. “ he said, “you must have defense ashore, afloat and aloft.” President Elpidio Quirino followed through the naval organizational reforms of Roxas. On Jan. 5, 1951, he issued Executive order No. 389 designating the Plilippine Naval Patrol as the Philippine Navy to be composed of “ all naval forces, combat vessels, auxiliary craft, naval air craft, shore installations supporting units necessary to carry out all the functions of the services.” Even before Quirino signed the order recasting the Naval Patrol into the Philippine Navy, his defense secretary, Ramon Magsaysay, had formed in 1950 a marine battalion as a unit of the Naval Patrol to carry out amphibious attacks on the Hukbalahap (Huk) communist guerillas in the coast, as well as to strike out against lawless elements. Their baptism of fire came in 1951 in Neuva Ecija when they overwhelmed a Huk camp. Three years later, the backbone of the Huk movement was destroyed. The decade that followed the Navy’s establishment as a major service of the Armed Forces saw it develop into an increasingly complex organization. Aside from the Marines, there emerged the Naval Shore Establishment, Naval Operating Forces, Philippine Coast Guard, Home Defense Command, the Military Sealift and Terminal Command and other major units of the service. By the 1960s, the Philippine Navy was the envy of the region. Although the naval fleet consisted mostly of Second World War hand-me-downs from the US Navy, it was still—in the 1960s—relatively young, having been only around for two decades. The nascent nation-states in the region were only beginning to form their own navies and often looked to the Philippines for inspiration and guidance in maritime defense (for example, Indonesia signed a joint patrol agreement with the Philippines in 1961). Although the Philippines at that time could look at the world as a horizon that had its share of promises as well as threats for a young maritime nation like itself, it could never have anticipated that the principal dynamic that would turn back its naval-defense development would be a series of internal conflicts and political crises that would not only make its strategic defense considerations shift even more inward, but also impair and lay to waste whatever defense system it had put up to deal primarily with external threats.

The need to quell the communist insurgency and the secessionist movement in Mindanao forced the government to put a premium on strengthening the ground-force capability of the Armed Forces. Vice Admiral Eduardo Ma. R. Santos, one of the past FOICs, points out that for more than 20 years the Navy’s defense operations were confined to “blockage, naval gunfire support, and moving troops” in and out of far-flung combat zones. Aggravating the damage inflicted by these armed conflicts were the political crises stemming from declaration of martial law in 1972 by President Ferdinand Marcos and his establishment of “constitutional authoritarianism.: this gave rise to pro-democracy challenges to his rule, leading to the assassination of his political oppositionist Benigno Aquino Jr. that compounded the collapse of the economy in 1983, and of the Marcos government itself in 1986. there followed aborted military putsches on the shaky democratic government of his successor, Corazon Aquino, severely disabling if not destroying whatever surviving defense materiel the Philippine still had at around that time. By the times things were simmering down to a semblance of peace and quite in the early 1990s, the American naval and air forces, stung by the Philippine Senate’s rejection of a treaty that would have prolonged their stay in the Philippines, were leaving in a huff. Suddenly, the Philippines saw its “surrogate” navy and air force heading for gates of Subic and Clark, leaving the resident highly anxious about its national defense. Retired Commodore Jose Francisco sums up the state of mind of the Navy— and perhaps the rest of the Armed Forces—after the American withdrawal: “All throughout the years the Americans were here, we had the military assistance agreement with them and logistical support from them, and all that the Philippine government had to do was pay our salaries. What happened was that we had indigestion. We knew it would not last, but when it did end, we were at a loss” The American withdrawal is now largely seen as the inevitable and natural consequence of the end of the Cold War and the close of bipolarism following the collapse of worldwide communism. The caveat is that it may have also resulted in a security vacuum in a region where tensions owing to deep-seated historic animosities and geopolitical disputes remain rife, a vacuum that may be filled up by next- in – line powers. The pull-out has also drawn renewed attention to Asian flashpoints, such as the Korean Peninsula and the Spratlys, that could bring nations into open conflict in the future. These developments hastened the passage of the AFP Modernization Law in 1995. The law remains to this day the best hope of ever realizing a credible naval force for the Philippines. Modernization is also expected to greatly enhance the Navy’s capacity to fulfill certain non-traditional tasks it has to take on as a result of recent developments. For example, the heightened consciousness on the need to protect the natural environment has enjoined the Navy to perform a more aggressive role in protecting the country’s extensive marine ecology. Moreover, the full implications of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas, which

the Philippines signed in 1982, have only lately been appreciated. While the convention has put in check the Philippines’ historic territorial sea, it has also provided the country a 200-mile belt around the archipelago known as the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). But the windfall comes with a price: the pressure that will be brought to bear on security and defense as a result of more areas added to the national territory. The convention, in fact, allows innocent passage and archipelagic sealane passage which can be exploited by the unscrupulous and unfriendly elements to exploit the country’s resources or denigrate Philippine sovereignty. A dispute with Taiwan in 1991 over the “innocent passage” of Taiwanese vessels in fish-rich areas in the north and northeast was just a variation of the security challenges that the convention poses on the Philippines. That dispute was settled because of the sincerity of both governments. Other states may nit be as straightforward as Taiwan. These recent development should provide guideposts for the Philippines navy in the coming years. Perhaps, they augur for a future that will see a closer welding of the fortunes of the Navy and the nation as a whole. Depending on the degree on which government comes to terms with the country’s marine realities and pursues the modernization of the Navy, the nation may ascend and falter, like the surge and ebb of waves that surround maritime Philippines, like the rise and fall that characterize much of history. – Joselito Zulueta