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US aircraft carrier group headed for RP
« on: June 26, 2008, 07:24:10 AM »
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Photo provided by the US Embassy shows the USS Ronald Reagan which is now sailing to the Philippines to help in the retrieval operations for victims trapped inside the ill-fated M/V Princess of the Stars.


US aircraft carrier group headed for RP

By Marvin Sy
Thursday, June 26, 2008

In a race against time, a US aircraft carrier is now sailing to the Philippines to help in the retrieval operations for victims trapped inside the ill-fated passenger ferry that capsized off Romblon at the height of typhoon “Frank.”

Malacañang assured the public that the carrier group deployed by the US government would not be carrying nuclear weapons.

Anticipating concerns that could be raised about the arrival of the fleet in Philippine waters, deputy presidential spokesman Anthony Golez said President Arroyo made it a point to ensure that the USS Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group would not be carrying nuclear weapons on board any of its vessels.

“Ever mindful of the (constitutional) prohibition, the President made it a point that the carrier group will not be bringing nuclear weapons in consonance with the policy of freedom from nuclear weapons,” Golez said.

Officials said the Hawaii-based carrier group could be in Philippine waters in the next 24-48 hours to help scour for the victims trapped inside the ill-fated M/V Princess of the Stars, which capsized off Sibuyan Island in Romblon with hundreds of its passengers presumed dead.

US President George W. Bush offered the help of the USS Ronald Reagan, the newest of the Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, during his meeting with President Arroyo at the White House on Tuesday.

“I would like to mention that the President has announced that the government has accepted the (US) offer of one aircraft carrier from Hawaii,” Golez, as National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) chairman, told a disaster briefing at Camp Aguinaldo yesterday.

“The aircraft carrier from Hawaii is going to arrive in the country to help us in our rescue, relief and rehabilitation efforts in areas devastated by the calamity,” he said.

The US support ship USS Stockham with rescue equipment and divers aboard, is already at the wreck site and had linked up with the Philippine Navy and Coast Guard in the area.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Lt. Gen. Alexander Yano said the battle group has already entered the Philippine area of responsibility and is expected to be in Panay any time now.

The USS Ronald Reagan is the largest and newest of the Nimitz-class aircraft carriers and its fleet includes the cruiser USS Chancellorsville, the destroyers USS Decatur, USS Gridley, and USS Howard, the frigate USS Thach, and other support vessels.

Its onboard aircraft are able to assist with transportation of cargo, aerial damage assessment, and support search-and-rescue operations.

It was revealed that the deployment of the warship and its fleet to the Philippines would be to provide assistance including aircraft support, production and delivery of potable water, medical assistance activities, and machinery repair in relation to the damage brought about by the typhoon.

The personnel of the carrier group would be operating under the supervision of Philippine disaster relief officials.

In a statement, the US Embassy in Manila said the arrival of the aircraft carrier group in the Philippines “exemplifies the longstanding ties between the United States and the Philippines and the US commitment to assisting the Philippines, in keeping with our mutual commitments under the Visiting Forces Agreement and the Mutual Defense Treaty.”

Golez said the policy against nuclear weapons does not prohibit the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, such as what is being used to power the aircraft carrier.

“We would like to stress the humanitarian focus of this aid accepted by the President which is of primary national interest given the current situation,” Golez said.

“The coming over of the carrier does not violate the Constitution, being only nuclear powered,” he said.

No nukes

Lawmakers, however, are apprehensive over the possible political implications of allowing a nuclear-powered carrier inside Philippine territory.

Senators Aquilino Pimentel Jr. and Rodolfo Biazon said the government should determine if the entry of a nuclear-powered ship might violate the nuclear-free provision of the Constitution along with other treaties and international agreements against nuclear weapons.

Pimentel and Biazon said Mrs. Arroyo should be aware of the constitutional prohibition against entry of nuclear weapons.

Although the USS Ronald Reagan is a “nuclear powered ship,” the senators said the government couldn’t guarantee if the carrier, or any of its support ships, is carrying any nuclear weapons once it enters the country.

The US maintains a policy of neither confirming nor denying the presence of nuclear weapons aboard its combat ships.

Pimentel said the Philippines, as a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), has signed an accord making the region a “nuclear free zone.”

“They (US and the Philippines) should justify it as a rescue mission...it is not a good message to the country. A good reason can mitigate the reservations over the entry of a nuclear powered ship in our territory,” Pimentel said.

Pimentel said the US may be sincere in helping the country but the government should also be cautious in seeking help and make sure that the Constitution is not violated.

Biazon, for his part, also expressed reservations over the deployment of the American carrier group, citing the policy against the entry of nuclear weapons.

“I think the sending of the USS Ronald Reagan is more for emphasis of the readiness of the United States to assist us in this disaster, but I don’t think it can do anything to really assist the Philippine government in having to do what has got to be done and that is the recovery of the passengers who might still be inside the ship,” Biazon said.

Noting that the USS Ronald Reagan is a combat ship, Biazon said the country could do better with a salvage ship rather than fighter planes.

“What will the F-18 fighter inceptors do there…I don’t think the USS Ronald Reagan is the appropriate ship to be sent there,” Biazon said.

He pointed out an aircraft carrier is not designed for salvage and retrieval operations.

“My question is, is the USS Reagan the appropriate ship to be sent to assist and (do) what has still to be done relative to the sinking of the M/V Princess of the Stars. They may have some divers in the USS Reagan, but are they properly equipped to do what has to be done in the sunken ship?” Biazon asked.

Pimentel, on the other hand, expressed his support for the suspension of the operations of Sulpicio Lines, owner of the ill-fated passenger ferry.

Pimentel said an inquiry by the Senate is the proper move to identify the lapses that led to one of the worst maritime disasters in the country in recent years. – with Jaime Laude, Pia Lee-Brago, Christina Mendez





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