MANILA, Philippines, Feb. 16 (UPI) -- The Philippines navy soon will receive its second decommissioned U.S. Coast Guard ship amid concern that the move sends the wrong signal to China.
Final U.S. approval for the sale of the USCGC Dallas, a Hamilton class cutter, is under way and the 378 foot-long, 3,250-ton vessel should soon sail for the Philippines.
The Dallas was commissioned in 1967 at the Avondale Shipyard in New Orleans. It carries a crew of 167 and can stay at sea for around 45 days, making it a high-endurance vessel.
Armaments included one OTO Melara MK-75 76mm gun, two MK-38 25mm machine gun systems and two MK 36 SRBOC systems. It also had a Phalanx CIWS missile defense gun, along with other mounted machine guns.
The ship is being sold as an excess defense article through the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act 1961.
But the Communist Party of the Philippines said the sale indicates the United States is preparing the Philippines navy as its de facto fighting force against China as the tensions increase in the South China Sea, a report in the Philippines newspaper Business Mirror said.
"The transfer of another naval cutter from the U.S. government serves the purpose of U.S. military buildup on the South China Sea," the CPP said in a statement.
"The United States is able to employ the Philippine navy as an augmentation force in the course of its operations to permanently project its military presence and power in the area and secure the trade routes and Asian markets in the interest of U.S. monopoly capitalist companies."
The CPP also said the acceptance of the Dallas makes the navy a target by enemies of the Philippines.
A report in The Philippine Star newspaper confirmed the sale of the Dallas soon will be completed.
"I'm pleased to report that the congressional review process for another ship – Coast Guard cutter Dallas -- wraps up this week," U.S. Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., told a House of Representatives Foreign Affairs hearing on U.S.-Philippine relations. "It should soon be on its way to Manila."
The Dallas joins the former U.S. Coast Guard vessel Hamilton -- renamed the Gregorio del Pilar -- which was decommissioned in March and taken over by the Philippines navy in May.
Royce said the Dallas will bolster the Philippines navy's efforts to maintain its territorial integrity.
Aggressive Chinese claims on the South China Sea -- or the West Philippine Sea as it is referred to in Manila -- are driving the nations of southeast Asia to seek closer U.S. ties," Royce said.
Philippines military spokesman Col. Arnulfo Burgos Jr. said the backing of U.S. politicians by agreeing to military sales helps increase Manila's defensive capabilities, the Star report said.
"This is a welcome development for the armed forces of the Philippines which continues to strive to be more efficient and effective in fulfilling its constitutional mandate of protecting the people and upholding the sovereignty and integrity of its national territory," he said.
The Philippines Business Mirror quoted Andrew Shapiro, U.S. State Department assistant secretary for Political and Military Affairs, saying the Philippines's internal security threat has shifted from terrorism to maritime concerns. The reason is Manila's concern over Chinese intrusions in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, said Shapiro.
Philippines and China dispute ownership of the Spratly Islands, although they are under Manila's control.
Shapiro also said "the United States hasn't taken a position on the claims, we believe it will not be resolved through the use of force," the Business Mirror report said. "We will continue to press that point to all the parties, that's been the U.S. policy under the Obama administration."