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Bongbong Rocket: The Secret Missile Experiment of the Philippines

The Bongbong rocket was a highly guarded state secret.
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There was a time in history when the Philippines was ambitious enough to start its own missile program. It was during the ’70s when the country was apprehensive about the United States discontinuing its defense commitments with the Philippines. 

At the time, the U.S. had just pulled out of Indochina, and fears abounded about a possible pullout of the Americans from their Clark and Subic bases in the Philippines.

The late dictator, President Ferdinand Marcos, ordered the military to develop and test rockets for defensive purposes. It was called Bongbong rocket, named after the dictator’s son. 

The Bongbong Rocket

Since the program was a highly guarded state secret, very few photos of the rocket prototypes were published at the time. The classified program was named Project Santa Barbara, which aimed to develop multiple types of missiles that the Philippines would use for its defense and sell to allied countries. 

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The Bongbong rocket was one of these missiles. In 1972, NASA mentioned the rocket in its yearly almanac of rocket launches around the world. The short description is found in Astronautics and Aeronautics (1972):

March 12: Philippines successfully launched Bong Bong II, its first liquid-propellant rocket. Rocket was successfully retrieved from South China Sea. (SBD, 3/22/72, 121)

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Very little was known about the rocket, and whether it was a surface-to-air missile or air-to-air missile. 

Three years later on September 8, 1975, a news article about the Bongbong rocket was published in the Bangor Daily News, an American newspaper:

The government said the missiles were fired six to seven miles into the sea from launches mounted on a military vehicle somewhere on the northern coast of the main Luzon island. It described the firing as ‘successful.’

Photo by Bangor News Daily | Google Archives.
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According to KBL, the former umbrella party of President Marcos, the missiles were meant to intercept incoming land, air, and sea threats. The second phase of the plan was to mass-produce the missiles and export them to friendly countries.

Today, the project’s fate remains a mystery. Blueprints of the Bongbong rocket have never been found, and the government never disclosed why the program was discontinued.

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Mario Alvaro Limos
Features Editor, Esquire Philippines
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