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The navy, the newest of the services, traces its ancestry to the Offshore Patrol, which was formed as part of the army in February 1939. It became autonomous and was redesignated the Philippine Naval Patrol in 1947. After the armed forces reorganized in 1950, the force became known as the navy. Naval personnel strength of approximately 25,000 in 1990 included marine, coast guard, and naval air units. Naval headquarters was in Manila, close to its major base at Cavite, south of the city. Other major naval bases were located in Zamboanga City, Cebu City, and at Subic Bay on Luzon, west of Manila. The Subic Bay facility, probably without peer as a deep-water port in the region, was used almost exclusively by the United States Navy.

The navy's principal mission was to protect and police the nation's 7,100 islands with a combined coastline of 36,289 kilometers, double that of the United States, and the Philippines' claimed exclusive economic zone (EEZ--see Glossary) of 200 nautical miles. The navy also had important support missions for the other armed forces and agencies of the government, especially in transporting troops and equipment between islands. It occasionally joined with other services in conducting joint operations and amphibious assaults. Through its subordinate coast guard arm, the navy was responsible for enforcement of maritime laws and regulations and countering widespread smuggling, poaching, and pirating in Philippine waters, including interception of covert supply lines to insurgent groups. The navy was hard-pressed to fulfill its broad responsibilities; senior naval officers candidly admitted that the fleet was too small and ill-maintained to patrol its large coastline and EEZ effectively and protect the Philippine claim to Kalayaan.

The navy was commanded by a rear admiral, known as the flag officer in command, who was supported by vice and deputy flag officers in command. Major naval operating forces came under the commander of the fleet, who directed the naval air, special warfare, assault craft, amphibious, and patrol groups. The navy also maintained six naval districts that supervised deployed naval forces under the operational control of the area unified commanders. The naval headquarters controlled the training command, coast guard and marine commands, and the naval support group which provided supply and maintenance support to the fleet.

All major combatants in the fleet were former United States ships, most of World War II vintage. In late 1989, the navy maintained three frigates and eleven corvettes, none with missiles (see table 20, Appendix). Consistent with the navy's mission, the mainstays of the fleet were patrol boats, including twelve coastal and thirty-nine inshore patrol craft. The navy also used eleven amphibious ships and some seventy-five landing craft for inter-island transport.

Many of the navy's ships, however, were in poor repair and of questionable operational capability. Roughly one-third of the ships were said to be serviceable, and only about twenty of them put to sea regularly. Because of these operational deficiencies, which the navy attributed to budget shortfalls, the navy embarked on a modernization program in 1990. Plans called for the overhaul of some ships and for the acquisition of thirty-five new patrol craft. Several older ships, including four frigates, had been decommissioned in the late 1980s, and more retirements of inoperable ships were planned.

The coast guard, established in 1967, was the navy's law enforcement arm. Its responsibilities included testing and licensing seamen and vessels, providing navigational aids, and protecting life and property at sea. To fulfill these missions, the coast guard operated nearly ninety small patrol boats and conducted search and rescue operations with two larger boats, a fixed-wing aircraft, and a helicopter. In 1990 the coast guard commander, a navy commodore, supervised some 2,000 personnel and 8 operational districts.

Although the marine corps mission was to conduct amphibious operations, in practice the marines generally were employed in assisting the army and constabulary in counterinsurgency operations against the Moros and communists. The service was commanded by the marine commandant, a brigadier general, and headquartered at Fort Bonifacio in Manila. The marine corps grew modestly during the 1980s; strength in 1990 was about 8,000 troops, up from 6,800 troops in 1983. The marine corps organization grew commensurately, from two brigades to four. The ten marine battalions were equipped with a variety of mostly United States-made equipment, including amphibious vehicles, armored personnel carriers, and howitzers. Their performance in counterinsurgency operations had earned marines the reputation for being a well-disciplined and well-respected force, but their support of Marcos in 1986 and involvement in a subsequent coup attempt against Aquino tarnished the marines' image.

Data as of June 1991

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Philippines Table of Contents