PH, US, Japan coast guards start milestone drills
The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and its counterparts from the United States and Japan kicked off their first-ever joint maritime exercises dubbed “Kaagapay” (Filipino for standing side by side) on Thursday, June 1, putting a spotlight on the “deepening” three-way security partnership among the Pacific allies.
The weeklong exercise is the first major security engagement involving the three countries since President Marcos’ visits to Tokyo in February and Washington in May, where talk of a trilateral cooperation was raised in response to Beijing’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea.
“The deepening partnership between the coast guards of Japan and the United States cultivates an expanded relationship with the Philippines,” Japanese chargé d’affaires Kenichi Matsuda said during the arrival ceremony for participating US and Japanese coast guard ships USCG Stratton (WMSL-752) and Akitsushima (PLH-32) at Pier 15 in South Harbor.
“Without a doubt, the shared history between Japan, the Philippines and the United States realizes a free and open international order in the Indo-Pacific region,” he said.
Australia, India as observers
The drills include a law enforcement and search-and-rescue exercise off Mariveles town in Bataan province facing the West Philippine Sea (WPS).
The PCG will deploy four of its vessels, including two acquired from Japan.
Australia and India—which, along with the United States and Japan, comprise the Quad, the diplomatic network of four countries committed to upholding peace and stability in the region—will also be joining the trilateral exercise as observers.
The exercise takes place several weeks after the PCG accused the China Coast Guard of engaging in “dangerous maneuvers” during a “confrontation” at Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal in April.
In February, Manila also accused Beijing of pointing a military-grade laser at one of its coast guard ships supporting a resupply mission in Ayungin.
Both the United States and Japanese coast guards have been assisting the PCG in their human resource development and capability upgrade in recent years, PCG officer in charge Vice Adm. Rolando Lizor Punzalan Jr. said.
“This is a good opportunity to thank you all and show what our personnel have learned,” he said.
US Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission Heather Variava said she looked forward to the upcoming activities over the next several days “as vital elements for obtaining our shared goal of a more connected, open and secure Indo-Pacific.”
She added that she was inspired to see the “rapid growth of trilateral cooperation among our coast guards.”
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