PH-US war games start in disputed sea
SUBIC BAY FREEPORT, Philippines—Philippine and United States naval forces on Thursday began bilateral maritime exercises, which include activities in international waters of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
The exercise directors for both countries, however, downplayed the connection of the annual exercise—called Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (Carat)—to the territorial dispute between the Philippines and China even as some of the activities will be held some 240 kilometers from Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal), a territory being disputed by both countries.
A statement from the US Embassy in Manila said the Carat exercises at sea would be held in international waters west of Subic Bay. It said Carat promotes regional maritime cooperation, “it is not in response to current events.”
The United States has sent the USS John S. McCaine and USS Hasley, both Arleigh Burke-class missile-guided destroyers, carrying about 300 sailors and Marines.
The Philippine Navy’s BRP Ramon Alcaraz, a former US Coast Guard cutter, has also arrived for the naval exercise.
Lt. Rommel Rodriguez, the Philippine Navy’s public affairs officer, said the annual exercises would focus on combined operations at sea, amphibious landings, diving and salvage, and maritime patrol and reconnaissance flights.
“Carat has strengthened the ties that bind both our countries not only because of our history but more for our shared aspirations and goals,” Rear Adm. Jaime Bernardino, the Philippine fleet commander, said at the opening ceremonies of the naval exercises here.
Bernardino said that holding the Carat exercises had been beneficial for the Philippines in terms of training its naval forces for responding to disasters, citing the combined efforts of Philippine and US naval forces in the aftermath of Super Typhoon Yolanda in the Visayas late last year.
“More than ever, our sailors and Marines are working more efficiently and effectively in combined operations and this was validated when both the Philippine and US Marines and sailors responded immediately and outstandingly during the relief operations in the aftermath of Yolanda in the central Philippines,” Bernardino said.
Rear Adm. Stuart Munsch, commander of US Submarine Group 7, said conducting the Carat had become “more complex” each year and offered new opportunities even if they had done this in the past 20 years.
“This engagement shares common things. Our security cooperation not only supports our mutual interest but also contributes to regional stability and prosperity,” Munsch said.
He said Carat would allow both forces to “build and renew relationships for professional exchanges.”
The exercises this year will take place in several locations ashore and at sea, including Subic Bay and San Antonio town in Zambales, and Sangley Point and Ternate towns in Cavite, Munsch said.–With a report from Tonette Orejas, Inquirer Central Luzon