From KYONG-KI to CHUNG-JU: A Brief History of the Philippine-South Korean Naval Connection

At dawn Sunday 25 June 1950 armored and infantry elements of the North Korean People’s Army (NKPA) crossed the border into Seoul setting into motion the three year Korean War. The surprise attack caught off guard the Republic of Korea (South) who a year earlier achieved its independence. Almost a day after UN resolution 83 went into effect calling member nations to militarily support the embattled Korean Republic in deterring the communist aggression.

The Philippines became the first Southeast Asian nation to deploy troops in support of the United Nations cause. The momentous decision came on August 07 1950 when then President Elpidio R Quirino announced the deployment of Filipino troops to the Korean theater of operations beginning with the arrival of the 10th Battalion Combat Team (BCT) Philippine Expeditionary Force to Korea (PEFTOK) in the Port of Pusan on 19 September 1950.

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THE TIES THAT BIND:

Philippine Navy Logo
Philippine Navy Logo

In August 1947 a naval mission was organized to bring in former Auxiliary Motor Minesweepers of the United States Navy and Royal Navy to form the nucleus of the ROK Fleet under supervision of the United States Coast Guard. The vital tasks was entrusted to the Philippine Naval Patrol (PNP) were in Filipino Naval Officers skippered the ships to the Ports of Jinhae, Pusan and Seoul. The task force was led by LTSG RAMON A ALCARAZ, the other skippers of the Minesweepers were ENSIGNS LEOVIGILDO GANTIOQUI, MARCELINO CALINAWAN, JOSE M VASQUEZ, DIOSCORO PAPA, ANTONIO S CALINGO, FEDERICO M MARTIR and GODIARDO G NONATO.

ESCORT AND COMBAT SERVICE SUPPORT DURING THE KOREAN WAR:

Unknown too many, the Philippine Navy transported to and from Korea four of the five PEFTOK Battalion Combat Teams beginning in 1951. The Philippine Navy of that era possessed Five Landing Ship Tanks (LST’s) under the service squadron whose Squadron Commander is the newly promoted Commander Ramon Alcaraz PN.

These vessels namely RPS Cotabato (LT-36- LCDR FLORENTINO BUENAVENTURA PN), RPS Pampanga (LT-37- LCDR TOMAS ROBENIUL PN), RPS Bulacan (LT-38- CDR TANDKO CENTI PN- First Filipino Muslim Naval Officer), RPS Albay (LT-39- LT JOSE ORDONEZ PN) and RPS Misamis Oriental (LT-40- LTJG PABLO PASCUA) performed a herculean tasks in Combat Service Support Operations to the Filipino Soldiers in theater. In 1953, an important but gloomy tasked was undertaken by RPS Cotabato (LT-36) under LT VICTOR JOSE PN of bringing home the bodies of the PEFTOK Soldiers who were killed in action during the war. Another notable Naval Officer aboard LT-36 was then ENS ALFREDO DIVINO PN who was with the vessel during its initial CSS mission.

ROK Navy Logo
ROK Navy Logo

Apart from these Combat Service Support is the impressive escort mission provided by the 16 Submarine Chasers of the Philippine Fleet to the departing PN LST’s and US Transport Ships carrying Filipino troops to and from Korea with RPS Capiz (PS-27) notable of mention as she and her sister ship RPS Negros Occidental (PS-26) escorted the USNS SGT Sylvester J Antolak (T-AP-197) from Corregidor Island to the outskirts of the South China Sea in September 1950.

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UN COMMAND LIAISON OFFICE, TOKYO, JAPAN:

As mentioned earlier, embedded within the BCT’s are Philippine Navy personnel, during the deployment of the 10th Battalion Combat Team then LCDR EMILIO S LIWANAG PN served as the Army’s logistical officer and commanded a battery of six-105mm howitzers during the defining battle between Filipino and Chinese forces known as the Battle of Yultong on 22-23 April 1951. Early on, as logistics officer LCDR Liwanag was also responsible in securing from an American depot a squadron of US made M24 Chafee light tanks and heavy weapons for the Tenth’s tank company. The decisive Filipino victory at Yultong held the UN line and delayed the communist advance. After his stint with the 10th BCT, now CDR Liwanag would serve as the Deputy of the Philippine Mission to UNC in Tokyo, Japan vice CDR SANTIAGO C NUVAL PN (A future PN FOIC) as head of the mission. The veterans recall the massive support of the two officers to our troops while in Japan. CDR Liwanag was also the Senior Naval Advisor to the Philippine Diplomatic Mission in Korea in which would earn him the US Legion of Merit for valuable logistical assistance to Filipino and allied troops in the Korean conflict.

POST KOREAN WAR NAVAL HERITAGE:

After the conflict, the diplomatic and defense cooperation between the two countries were in an all- time high with the exchange and visits of officers and personnel as well as fleet units. Twenty-four years after the conflict, would marked the largest naval vessel allocation in terms of size and tonnage from the ROKN to the Philippine Navy with the turn-over of ROKS Kyong Ki (DE-71) and ROKS Kang Won (DE-72) in 1977. The former was the ex-USS Sutton (DE-771) while the latter was the ex-USS Muir (DE- 770). The ships were of the Cannon-Class Destroyer Escort Type in which at that period the PN has three in its inventory namely RPS Datu Kalantiaw (PS-76), RPS Rajah Humabon (PF-6) and RPS Datu Sikatuna (PF-5). Regrettably, the Kyong Ki and Kang Won were never commissioned but were utilized as spare parts source for our three active units.

Photograph of ROKS Kyong-Ki (DE-71) and ROKS Kangwon (DE-72)
Photograph of ROKS Kyong-Ki (DE-71) and ROKS Kangwon (DE-72)

Almost a score later in 1993 added another milestone in Philippine-Korea Naval relations as 12 Haksaeng (Sea Dolphin) and Chamsuri (Sea Hawk) class Patrol Gunboats were sold to the Philippine Navy. Twelve of the Haksaeng and Eight of the Chamsuri’s were transferred during those years and through recommendation from the Philippine Navy to President Fidel V Ramos, all ships were named after Filipino Korean War Veterans. These two classes of Patrol gunboats would be known in the naval service as the Conrado Yap and Tomas Batilo class. As of the present 4 Tomas Batilo Class Gunboats remain in service, while the last Conrado Yap FACP’s bowed out of the service this year.

THE PRESENT AND THE FUTURE:

Thirteen years after the transfer of BRP Emilio Liwanag (PC-118) the handover and commissioning of the Pohang Class Corvette Ex-ROKS Chung-Ju, now the BRP Conrado Yap (PS-39) marked another milestone in the naval relations between the two countries.These transfers including a former Mulgae Class Landing Craft Utility (LCU-78) was further cemented when Hyundai Heavy Industries was selected by the Philippine Government for the building of two Incheon Class Guided Missile Frigates now known as BRP Jose Rizal (FF-150) and BRP Antonio Luna (FF-151) to join our Fleet by 2020 and 2021 respectively.

CONCLUSION:

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The Naval Connection between the Republic of the Philippines and the Republic of Korea dates backs before the official establishment of relations between the two countries in 1949 that significantly strengthen the deeper bond of friendship paved on the hardships of war and cherished in the years of peace.

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