AS President Rodrigo Duterte and his leftist allies continue their tirades against the US, the Philippines and United States opened on Tuesday what could be their last joint military exercises.
Maj. Gen. Andre Costales Jr., head of the Philippine Marines, and Brig. Gen. John Jansen of the US Marines’ 3rd Expeditionary Brigade, led the opening of the 33rd iteration of the Philippines Amphibious Landing Exercise (Phiblex 33), with both officials underscoring the importance of interoperability.
The President has downplayed the significance of joint military exercises, claiming no technology transfer was happening.
Duterte has warned the war games would be the last in his six-year term, and threatened to scrap the Philippines-US Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement implemented by his predecessor, meant to see more US troops in the Philippines to counter Chinese expansion in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
In his speech at Fort Bonifacio in Taguig, Costales called for a “culture of jointness,” saying it “gives us the assurance of interoperability among Marine units with different flags, diverging motivations, and proud roots.”
“We must now seek to expand our initiatives with other willing partners who share with us our vision of commitment, cooperation and capability to protect and preserve our cherished freedoms – freedom of action, freedom of navigation and freedom of commerce,” he added.
Jansen said he expected the exercises to continue in the future. “I am confident that we will continue to build our partnership and capabilities together,” he said in his speech.
The Philippine Marines commander noted that for more than three decades, the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the US Armed Forces, strong allies in the Asia-Pacific region, have built capabilities covering a wide range of operations such as command post exercises, field training exercises, and humanitarian and civic assistance.
Field training covers capacity not only for territorial defense but also humanitarian assistance and disaster response and anti-terrorism and internal security operations, he said.
“Every year, it has been our aim to enhance knowledge, skills, and strategy for interoperability, taking off from our shared victories in the previous years’ exercises,” Costales said.
US marines and sailors from the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade and Bonhomme Richard Expeditionary Strike Group will participate in the exercises until October 12 to help improve interoperability of the two militaries’ amphibious vessels.
Phiblex specifically aims to integrate the use of the strategic sealift vessel, BRP Tarlac, and other “non-traditional platforms” such as landing craft heavies acquired from Australia and small craft from the US, Costales said.
At least 500 Filipino soldiers and 1,400 US service members based in Okinawa, Japan will join in the exercises at multiple locations in Luzon and Palawan, which is close to the disputed West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
China claims nearly all of the sea, even waters close to the Philippines and other Southeast Asian nations, and has in recent years built artificial islands in the disputed areas, capable of hosting military bases.
To counter China, former President Benigno Aquino 3rd sought to draw the United States closer, signing the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement that Duterte now wants to scrap.
Duterte appears intent on adopting the opposite tactic, saying recently he hopes to travel to China and meet with President Xi Jinping.
The Communist Party of the Philippines, which is negotiating a peace deal with Duterte, has expressed support for the President’s declaration to end joint military exercises with the US.
WITH PNA AND AFP