Philippine Navy contingent leaves for first Asean-US exercise
MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine Navy on Thursday sent off BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PS-16) for the first Asean-U.S. maritime exercises in the Gulf of Thailand.
The 200-man contingent, led by Naval Task Group 80.5 commander Capt. Hilarion Cesista, left Manila South Harbor for the drills set on Sept. 2 to 6.
“The Navy will be benefited from this because they will be operating with other navies as far as maritime safety and security is concerned. It also promotes exercise of freedom of navigation and overflight and unimpeded commerce,” said Chief of Naval Staff Rear Adm. Loumer Bernabe, who led the ceremony.
While the U.S. conducts exercises with Southeast Asian nations on a regular basis, this is the first time that the global superpower will hold maritime drills with Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) as a regional bloc. The joint drills are taking place a year after Asean held military exercises with China for the first time.
Despite trade tensions between the two superpowers, Asean has maintained its neutrality. China and the U.S. are also competing for influence over the South China Sea, one of the world’s most strategic maritime chokepoints that is a source of tensions in the region.
The Philippines and three other Asean countries, along with China and Taiwan have competing claims over the disputed waterway. But Beijing claims the South China Sea almost entirely.
The exercises will be held a few days after the U.S. had accused China of using “bullying tactics” in the South China Sea, and has criticized the Asian giant over its “coercive behavior” in interfering in oil and gas activities in waters claimed by Vietnam.
The drills, where participating navies will work together to address sea threats, will extend from Chonburi Province in Thailand to the tip of Ca Mau in Vietnam.
“This is a very important and timely activity as it shall boost our readiness to work seamlessly with our counterparts, particularly in countering security threats,” Bernabe said.
The Philippine Navy’s participation in both U.S. and China-led exercises manifests that it is consistent with the country’s independent foreign policy, the Navy official said.
It also shows that the Navy has advanced in some ways, because it now gets invited to send ships for international engagements, which was not the case in the past.
“When you are invited by navies around the world, it only shows you have the credibility. Before, the Navy does not participate because our vessels cannot reach their area because of the distance. But now, the Navy is very visible on international occasions and exercises,” Bernabe said.
Commodore Toribio Adaci Jr, commander of Fleet-Marine Ready Force, announced that the Philippine contingent might make a port call in Vietnam after the exercises.
“I wish to inform that your grueling 5-day exercise in Thailand may be complemented possibly with a port visit to Vietnam before you come home to the Philippines. Efforts are underway to coordinate the port visit,” he told the participating troops. /muf