Rep. Mel Senen Sarmiento of Western Samar, in central Philippines, said the vessels could be used as deployable medical evacuation facility and could double as a control center during emergencies, especially during typhoons.
“The idea of having this type of ship,” he explained, “is to equip the Navy with facilities that can alternately be used as a military transport vessel, floating hospital or on-site crisis management command center whenever a big disaster occurs.”
He disclosed that the inclusion of his initial proposal in the Navy’s modernization priorities to own only one hospital ship was assured after the top naval officials supported the idea and promised to allot funds for it.
Estimates place the cost of the two strategic sealift vessels (SSVs) at P4 billion (US$95 million), one of which is already scheduled for acquisition under the P10 billion (US$238 million) fund earmarked by Aquino in 2011.
Sarmiento explained that the modern SSVs will not just mean enough rooms for makeshift hospital beds, medical emergency care and surgical facility, “it will also have two helipads and thermal imaging device for use by search and rescue choppers and air ambulances.”
The clamor to own a hospital ship was pushed further recently after Davao region, in Southern Philippines, was devastated by super-typhoon ‘Pablo” (international code name: Bopha), which left over 1,000 people dead and over 800 individuals still missing, and damaged infrastructure, roads, agriculture, and residences amounting to P30 billion (US$715 million).
With the improved weather forecast capabilities of the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA), the lawmaker added, “the next goal should be to modernize the country's assets in providing swift medical and humanitarian aid during calamities.”
Only recently, President Aquino signed the new AFP Modernization Act, also known as Republic Act 10349, which allots an additional of P75 billion (US$1.785 billion) over the next fifteen years, on top of the P28 million (US$666.6 million) that was already released since he assumed office in June 2010.
The promised new fresh money for military muscle was announced by the President last December 22, during the 77th anniversary celebration of the Armed Forces.