USS Blue Ridge here, won’t join Balikatan
MANILA, Philippines—The USS Blue Ridge, the flagship of the United States 7th Fleet, which docked in Manila on Friday, will not join any military exercise.
“Our mission is solely goodwill,” said USS Blue Ridge commanding officer Capt. Daniel Grieco during a press briefing held on the ship shortly after it anchored off Manila South Harbor for a routine port call and a four-day goodwill visit.
But militant group Bayan Muna slammed the ship’s visit, saying it was “part of the US’ grand design to project its military power in the region by using countries like the Philippines as an outpost.”
“The Philippines and the United States enjoy a historic relationship and strong ties between our people. The US and the Philippines are closely together in a range of issues, including humanitarian projects, responding to disasters, combating transnational threats. The partnership and alliance of our countries achieve mutual benefits for our people,” said Grieco,
No comment on Spratlys
But Grieco declined to comment on the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) dispute and on the rising number of US troops and vessels visiting the Philippines.
“I think I’m not the best person to answer that,” he said and referred reporters to the US Embassy for answers regarding the issue.
“Again, I apologize, I may not be the best person to answer that,” he said when asked if the USS Blue Ridge would accede should the Philippine government request for assistance in conducting patrol operations around its territories.
“My scope is the Blue Ridge, I maintain this ship and I take care of my crew,” Grieco said, adding that they won’t participate in the Balikatan, the joint training exercises of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the US Armed Forces which will be held next month.
“We’re just happy to be here. This visit will be an opportunity for us to appreciate the Filipino culture, experience and enjoy the city’s sights and sounds,” he added.
On Thursday, Malacañang denied that the disputes with other countries over the West Philippine Sea were the reason for the increased US presence in the Philippines that was announced by President Aquino on Wednesday.
Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda nevertheless acknowledged that the rise in the number of US troops and vessels visiting the country would contribute to the stability of the region and improve the Philippine military’s capability to protect the country.
Lacierda said the increased US presence was not related to the territorial disputes with China and other claimant-countries to the Spratlys and other potentially rich islands in the West Philippine Sea. But he said it would certainly contribute to stability in the area.
But according to Bayan Muna secretary general Renato Reyes, the post call of the USS Blue Ridge, being billed as a goodwill visit, comes at a time when the US and the Philippine governments are busy hammering out a deal that would bring more US troops to the country.
“Sure, Aquino says there won’t be a return of US bases, but with more frequent port calls, more Balikatan war games, and 600 US troops stationed in MIndanao, it’s as if the bases are back,” Reyes said in a text message to Inquirer.
With 268 officers and 1,173 sailors on board, the 194-meter Blue Ridge, with a tonnage of more 19,000 tons, has been in service since 1970.
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