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Philippines to upgrade navy base facing disputed waters

MANILA -- The Philippines is to upgrade a navy base facing disputed South China Sea waters to serve the extra ships being acquired to protect its territory, the military said Thursday.

Navy spokesman Lieutenant-Commander Gregory Fabic said the military would build a 500-million-peso (US$11.2 -million) port at Ulugan Bay, the Philippine military base nearest to the Spratly Islands.

“It is being programmed for capability upgrade ... we need to develop it to house the big vessels of the navy,” he told reporters.

President Benigno Aquino is set to visit the base on May 20 to launch the upgrading, Fabic added.

The base on the west coast of Palawan island is the headquarters of naval forces guarding the waters on the west of the archipelago.

In recent years, the Philippines has been locked in an increasingly tense standoff with China involving disputed reefs and islands in the Spratlys and other areas of the South China Sea.

Under a program designed to improve the capability of one of Asia's weakest military forces, the Philippines has been acquiring naval vessels to create what the government described as a “credible deterrent” to protect its territorial integrity.

The navy has acquired two refurbished American coastguard frigates in the past two years, and they now lead patrols in the South China Sea.

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