DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 30 June) — The 70-crew member USS Montgomery, an Independence-class littoral combat ship (LCS) of the US Navy, arrived at the Sasa Wharf in Davao City around 5:30 p.m. on Saturday for a three-day goodwill visit and to demonstrate the US government’s commitment to maritime security.
Cmdr. Edward A. Rosso, Montgomery’s commanding officer, told reporters in an interview after a quick tour inside the ship that it was the first port visit of the Montgomery to the Philippines, one of the longest-standing US allies in the Indo-Pacific region, for its first deployment.
Rosso said the ship’s goodwill visit aims to help strengthen the comprehensive US-Philippines relations and to learn from the experience of both navies to improve interoperability and exchange culture.
“We’re here to strengthen our partnership and our alliance with the Philippines. We can exchange cultural ideas and interoperability. It’s very important that our military work together, learn how to operate together,” he said.
In press release issued by the US Embassy in Manila, Rosso said port visits “allow us to demonstrate our commitment to maritime security in the region, while strengthening relationships with our friends, partners, and allies.”
Rosso said the visit of Montgomery to Davao has nothing to do with the renewed tensions in the West Philippine Sea after a Filipino fishing boat Gem-Ver was rammed by a Chinese vessel at the Recto Bank in the evening of June 9. The 22 fishermen were reportedly abandoned in that sinking boat.
He maintained the intention of the ship’s visit, which came two weeks after the recent “maritime incident,” was to further the partnership and alliance between US and Philippines.
Last year, Davao was also frequented with Chinese military aircraft and Chinese research/survey vessels, Yuan Wang 3 and Yuan Wang 7.
“It has nothing to do with the Chinese. The US and the Philippines have been in a partnership for over 70 years. Think about the Philippines and Americans. Over 4 million Filipino-Americans are in the US. Any time, it’s 350,000 US citizens traveling in this country,” Rosso said.
During his visit to Davao on June 18, US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim assured the Philippines of the US government support amid tensions in the West Philippine sea.
Citing US Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo, Kim vowed the US will protect the Philippines as part of their commitments under the US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty. He said any armed attack “against the Philippine forces, Philippine aircraft, and Philippine public vessels will trigger our obligations under the Mutual Defense Treaty.”
The International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea in The Hague, the Netherlands upheld the Philippine’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) over China’s historic nine-dash line claim that borders the former’s maritime territory in a decision last July 12, 2016.
Asked if the Montgomery would be sailing across the disputed West Philippine Sea, Rosso said: “I cannot comment on where we’ve been and where we’re going.”
The official also refused to answer if the ship would be deployed in the Balikatan Exercise, an annual military exercises of the two nations, as part of the US-Philippines Visiting Forces Agreement.
According to a press briefer, Montgomery’s speed at 46 miles per hour and maneuverability were among the unique and defining characteristics of the ship.
The ship, equipped with four steerable water jets unlike most naval ships that utilize propellers and rudders to “drive” the ship, is one of the most agile and maneuverable ships in the fleet.
“A fast, agile, and focused mission platform, it is designed for operation in near-shore environments, yet capable of open ocean operation independently or with a strike group,” it added.
It said the LCS fulfills a crucial role in the six core areas of the Navy’s Maritime Defense Strategy: forward presence, deterrence, sea control, sea power projection, maritime security, and humanitarian assistance/disaster response (HA/DR).
“This ship drafts 14 feet which just gives our navy the opportunity to go into a lot of places that normally we wouldn’t be able. This ship can get to so many places. If we needed to do between disaster relief and humanitarian aid, this is the perfect ship to help you do that,” Rosso said. (Antonio L. Colina IV / MindaNews)