PH, Australia planning joint patrols in South China Sea
SAN ANTONIO, Zambales — President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. witnessed Filipino and Australian troops come ashore in amphibious vehicles and jump out of helicopters in parachutes—with close air support from F-35A fighter jets—to retake land occupied by an “enemy,” as the two countries staged their largest military drills yet on Friday.
The amphibious assault drills held in waters facing the West Philippine Sea in this province were the second and final part of an inaugural joint exercise named “Alon,” following an air assault training in Rizal, Palawan, earlier this week.
The activities were also an occasion for the top defense officials of both countries to affirm their security interest in the South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea, saying they will work more closely on conducting “joint patrols.”
The combined training forces, with the support of the United States, rehearsed against Calabania, “a fictional country that has been continuously claiming international waters and asserting ownership over independent countries,” according to the exercise scenario.
Marcos said after the drills: “I think it’s an important aspect of how we prepare for any eventuality and considering that there have been so many events that attest to the volatility of the region.”
‘Global rules-based order’
Alon—which is part of Canberra’s flagship international engagement activity, Indo-Pacific Endeavor—is the largest joint military exercise so far staged by the Philippines and Australia, the only other country with a visiting forces agreement with Manila, aside from Washington.
Some 2,000 personnel, consisting of 700 from the Armed Forces of the Philippines, 1,200 from the Australian Defense Forces and 150 from the US Marine Corps, are taking part in the drills set from Aug. 13 to Aug. 31.
Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles, who joined Mr. Marcos and other officials to observe the military exercises, said “The message that we want to convey to the region and to the world from an exercise of this kind is that we are two countries committed to the global rules-based order.”
Marles and his Philippine counterpart, Gilberto Teodoro Jr., also said in a joint statement after the drills: “We recommitted to planning bilateral joint patrols in the South China Sea, West Philippine Sea and other areas of mutual interest.”
“We committed to expanding some of our bilateral activities in the future to include other countries committed to sustaining peace and security in our region,” they also said.
In comments to ABC radio, Marles said there was a “very significantly growing defense relationship between our two countries,” adding that Australia wanted more patrols alongside the Philippine Navy.
“A whole lot of damage can be done to Australia before any potential adversary sets foot on our shores, and maintaining the rules-based order in Southeast Asia, maintaining the collective security of Southeast Asia, is fundamental to maintaining the national security of our country,” he said.
Marles said Australia, Japan and the Philippines conducted a joint patrol last week but a US navy vessel did not take part as planned.
Marcos said he was intent on discussing the “continuation” of joint military exercises between Manila and Canberra when Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese visits the country early next month. “You know when there’s good coordination, especially in the military, there’s a huge multiplier effect and that’s why it is important that we continue that,” the President said.
Albanese—who will be the first Australian leader to visit the Philippines in 20 years—is scheduled for talks in Manila on Sept. 7 and Sept. 8.
Euan Graham, a senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said Mr. Marcos’ attendance was an indication of his administration’s prioritization of defense.
“It’s a sign that Malacañang takes the defense agenda seriously and is willing to invest political capital in other strategic partnerships alongside the US alliance. Australia and Japan are obvious candidates, as fellow allies of the US,” Graham told the Inquirer.