Joint war games with US not about China, says Philippines

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US JUMP JETS IN SUBIC Two US Marine Corps AV-8B Harrier ground attack aircraft sit on the flight deck of the USS Bonhomme Richard docked in Subic Bay on Monday. The assault ship is in the country for the RP-US amphibious landing exercise 2013. POOL PHOTO

SUBIC BAY FREEPORT—The joint military exercises between the Philippines and the United States started in this former American naval base on Monday, but a top Philippine military official said the war games had nothing to do with the country’s conflict with China over disputed territories in the West Philippine (South China) Sea.

Officials from the Philippine and US armed forces held the opening ceremony for the 10-day Philippines-US Amphibious Landing Exercise (Phiblex) 2013 on the US helicopter carrier, USS Bonhomme Richard, which is docked here.

The ship, which is anchored next to the submarine USS Olympia, is joining Phiblex alongside other vessels from both countries.

Vice Adm. Alexander Pama, Philippine Navy flag officer in command, said the joint exercises “will enhance the interoperability of both our forces.”

Asked whether the territorial disputes with China over the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal and the Spratly Islands would figure in Phiblex, Pama said: “This will make us more prepared and enable both countries to work together, but scenarios like that were not included in the [planning or execution of the] joint exercises.”

Pama said Phiblex was an annual event and was not a direct response to the looming threat of China in the Asia-Pacific.

In his speech, US Marine Corps Brig. Gen Craig Timberlake, US exercise director, said Phiblex was aimed at improving the capability of Philippine and American troops and at strengthening ties between the two nations.

“[Phiblex operates on] one simple truth. Phiblex is designed to always make us better, [make] both nations better friends, better allies,” Timberlake said.

He said the Philippines was the US’ “closest and oldest ally” and they shared a common history. He noted that the two countries fought side by side” during World War II.

Today, Timberlake said, both the US and the Philippines were in the same situation “as we face common threats.” He, however, did not elaborate on the nature of the threats.

He said Phiblex would enable both countries to “respond to issues, whether those issues are humanitarian or disaster response… or national security.”

Timberlake said he had been visiting the Philippines since 1985, when he was a young officer.

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