THE Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the battle-tested Philippine Marines are set to hold joint naval exercises with their American counterparts beginning October 4, officials announced on Sunday.
The war games are pushing through in Luzon and Palawan near the disputed West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) even as President Rodrigo Duterte has expressed a desire to become less dependent on US military assistance.
Duterte has called for a stop to joint patrols in the disputed waters and a pullout of US troops in Mindanao, although the latter statement has been clarified by Malacañang as a mere warning or expression of concern for the security of American soldiers amid the presence of terror groups in the south.
On Sunday, officials said at least 500 Filipino soldiers and 1,400 US troops based in Okinawa, Japan will be participating in the 33rd iteration of the Philippines Amphibious Landing Exercise (Phiblex 33), on October 4 to 12 at multiple locations in Luzon and Palawan.
The AFP has invited US marines and sailors from the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade and the Bonhomme Richard Expeditionary Strike Group to participate in the drills that seek to enhance the interoperability between the US marines’ air-ground task force and the Philippine military.
Both sides aim to strengthen their capacity to respond to regional issues and maritime security crises within the Asia-Pacific region.
The combined Filipino and US troops will be working side by side to conduct a command post exercise, field training exercises, amphibious landing exercises, combined arms training, live-fire training featuring artillery, civil-military operations, and humanitarian and civic assistance projects.
These are all designed to improve capabilities and prepare both forces to operate together during natural disasters or armed conflict, specifically in amphibious capabilities, officials said.
“The opportunity to train and build mutually beneficial capabilities with our Armed Forces of the Philippines partners is essential for sharpening our bilateral amphibious and humanitarian assistance capabilities, both hallmarks of the US Marine Corps,” said Brig. Gen. John M. Jansen, commanding general of the US 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade.
“Exchanging expertise and cultivating our longstanding security alliance provides a cornerstone for security and stability in the region,” he added.
The naval exercises’ humanitarian and civic assistance portion began this month and would be concluded on October 12, 2016. Activities include engineering projects to improve local infrastructure and community medical missions.
Capt. Ryan Lacuesta of the Philippine Marines’ Public Affairs Office said several activities had been lined up for the joint naval exercises.
Three days after the opening ceremony on October 4 at the Acero Hall of the Philippine Marines headquarters at Fort Bonifacio in Taguig City, an amphibious landing exercise will be held at the Naval Education Training Command in San Antonio, Zambales province.
On October 10, there will be a combined live-fire exercise (Calfex) at Crow Valley in Tarlac.
The following day, there will be a turn-over ceremony of an engineering project at Palawig Elementary School and San Vicente Elementary School in Santa Ana, Cagayan.
Field training during the naval exercises includes small-arms and artillery live-fire training, which will provide the Philippine and US marine units several opportunities to maintain and sharpen their skills while enhancing an already high level of interoperability.
Other US units participating include the Amphibious Squadron 11, the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit and three ships of Bonhomme Richard Amphibious Ready Group.
The amphibious group consists of the USS BHR (LHD-6), the USS Green Bay (LPD-20), and the USS Germantown (LSD-48).
Philippine units participating include the 3rd Marine Brigade and the Philippine Navy’s new strategic sealift vessel, the BRP Tarlac.