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From presidential yacht to floating hospital

In 2016, presumptive president Rodrigo Duterte announced that the BRP Ang Pangulo, the presidential yacht, would be up for sale once he’s elected, with the proceeds going to war veterans, the improvement of hospital facilities, the construction of buildings for the police and military, and as a supplement to doctors’ salaries to sway them from the temptation of higher pay abroad. Nobody had briefed him that Corazon Aquino had put the yacht up or sale in 1986, but there were no takers for a 27-year-old ship that was offered at $5.5 million, plus the maintenance cost of P400,000 a month. Ang Pangulo returned to active service during the term of Fidel V. Ramos where, in November 1996, visiting Chinese President Jiang Zemin surprised everyone by gamely singing and dancing the night away on the boat. The highlight of the evening was a duet between the Philippine and Chinese presidents; they sang “Top of the World,” “Let Me Call You Sweetheart,” and an Elvis Presley ballad, “Love Me Tender,” that, fortunately, didn’t require either Ramos or Jiang to perform the quick pelvic thrusts that made Presley famous.

Under Joseph Estrada, the tired interiors of Ang Pangulo were spruced up at private expense, and he used the yacht as a floating Malacañang. Although he didn’t swim, Estrada practiced a dry modified breaststroke when shuffling mahjong tiles at games that his erstwhile friend, then Ilocos Sur governor Chavit Singson, claimed netted Estrada millions in winnings.

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The Ang Pangulo was made by Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries and was given to the Philippines as part of Japanese reparations in 1959. Received by then President Carlos P. Garcia, it was christened Lapu-Lapu, instead of the more appropriate Sikatuna that commemorated both his Bohol birthplace and the rajah as an icon of diplomacy and friendship between the Philippines and other countries. Under Garcia, the Lapu-Lapu served as the flagship of the Philippine Navy and was used as a venue for a floating trade and cultural expo that called on ports in Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. Before Ang Pangulo, there was the Casiana aka Banahaw, received in 1936 and reserved for the use of Manuel Luis Quezon and his family. It was sunk by the Japanese in Corregidor on Dec. 29, 1941.

Other vessels that served the same purpose were the Apo (1921-1932) and the Orchid (1946-1948), used by Manuel Roxas. There was a second ship also named Apo that had the most schizophrenic history: It first served during World War II as Apo, then upon retirement in 1948 was renamed Dalisay; Ramon Magsaysay renamed it Pagasa, and Garcia renamed it Santa Maria, to honor his Bohol hometown. Later, Diosdado Macapagal would rename this ship not once but thrice: Corregidor (1963), Pagasa (1964), and Incorruptible (1965). When Ferdinand Marcos came in, the name was reverted to Pagasa in 1966 and later to Mount Samat in 1967.

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Pictures of these ships may be viewed on the website of the Malacañang Museum.

Going back to Ang Pangulo, which started out as Lapu-Lapu in 1959, Macapagal renamed it RPS Roxas in 1962, and later The President by Ferdinand Marcos, who incidentally always referred to it as the “777,” his favorite number, or perhaps from the ship’s length of 77.33 meters. The Malacañang website says it was renamed BRP Ang Pangulo in 1967, but the Official Gazette gives a different date—July 4, 1971. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo then renamed it the BRP Pag-Asa, and when Benigno S. Aquino III became president, he restored the name Ang Pangulo.

The ship is most associated with Marcos, who used it often to entertain guests on cruises to Corregidor or on fishing expeditions to Fuga island. Marcos also used Ang Pangulo as a floating Malacañang that brought him on inspection trips outside Manila. Ang Pangulo’s reputation was tarnished following the release in 1986 of a lavish party held in it by the Marcos children, and this led to it being offered for sale by Cory Aquino in 1986 and Mr. Duterte in 2016.

Today, the BRP Ang Pangulo (ACS-25 or auxiliary command ship) has been recalled from service in Eastern Mindanao and has been refitted into a floating quarantine hospital. From a presidential yacht that could accommodate 44 guests and 81 crew, it is now ready for 28 patients with beds spaced 3 meters apart, and five medical personnel. What will it transform into next?

Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: Ambeth R. Ocampo, Ang Pangulo, coronavirus pandemic, coronavirus philippines, COVID-19 hospital ship, Looking Back, presidential yacht
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