US vows to strengthen alliance with PH in defending West PH Sea
PUERTO PRINCESA CITY — The United States continues its alliance with the Philippines in protecting its territory and is helping to increase its capability to man the West Philippine Sea against foreign intrusions, a US official said Friday, March 25.
According to Heather Variava, Chargé d’Affaires ad interim of the US Embassy in the Philippines, the Balikatan Exercise between Filipino and American soldiers would help boost the country’s defense team.
Variava made the remark during a turn-over ceremony of outboard engines to the Philippine National Police (PNP) 2nd Special Operations Unit-Maritime Group (SOU-MG) at Honda Bay here on Friday afternoon.
“We continue to support the Philippines in expressing and establishing its rights. As we said back in November, any incursion in the South China Sea is covered in the Mutual Defense Treaty, so we constantly coordinate with the Philippines in this regard,” Variava told the reporters.
Variava made the remark after she was asked to comment on the summons issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs to the Chinese Embassy on March 14, after reports of Chinese militia were seen “lingering presence” during the Philippine and US Marines Marine Exercise 2022 (MAREX 22) off Palawan in January 2022.
“It is a significant incursion. We certainly support the right of the Philippine government to clarify its rights and its rules in its territorial waters, and we continue to work with the Philippines on a range of exercises and activities that will continue, ” she added.
The Chinese ship was seen off Palawan’s Cuyo Group of Islands and Apo Island off Mindoro, after it entered the Philippine waters, even after repeated demands from the Philippine Navy’s BRP Antonio Luna (FF-151) to leave immediately.
The ship responded that it was “exercising innocent passage,” in which the DFA rejected the Chinese vessel’s explanation for its presence.
The PH-US MAREX 22 was intended to boost the mutual defense capabilities of the two longtime allies. It started on Jan. 27 and ended on Feb. 2.
On March 22, the joint information bureau of the PH-US Balikatan 2022 said an estimated 3,800 personnel of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and 5,100 soldiers from the U.S will train together from March 28 to April 8 in areas across Luzon, which they described as the “largest ever”.
During the ceremonial turn-over ceremony, six of a total of 16 outboard engines were donated to the maritime group in this city that will help in patrolling its waters.
A total of P31.5 million worth of engines were donated, including 12 that will be turned over to Tawi-Tawi province.
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