Philippines: Largest war games with US not directed at China

BenarNews staff
Philippines: Largest war games with US not directed at China American marines stand atop a military vehicle as launch trucks carrying the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) take part in a live-fire drill during a U.S.-Philippines joint military exercise dubbed “Kamandag” (“Cooperation of the Warriors of the Sea”) in Capas, Tarlac province, Philippines, Oct. 13, 2022.
Basilio Sepe/BenarNews

The largest-ever war games between the United States and the Philippines slated for next month are not meant to provoke China, a Filipino military official said Wednesday.

The Balikatan exercises, to run from April 11-28 and involve 17,600 troops from both sides, are for honing participants’ skills in “territorial defense,” said Col. Michael Logico, a spokesman for the Philippine contingent. 

Balikatan,” which means “shoulder-to-shoulder” in Tagalog, is the flagship annual set of joint training maneuvers between the two longtime allies, but this year’s edition will take place amid heightened tensions between rival superpowers the United States and China.

“There is nothing for them to criticize. First of all, a treaty exists and we are bound by treaty obligations to conduct this activity. Second, we are exercising inside our territory,” Logico told journalists.

He was referring to the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty between the Philippines and U.S. The agreement requires both parties to help each other respond to any external attack on their respective armed forces or territory.

“Why should they be critical? We have to remember that this exercise is for the defense of the country and there’s nobody else who will be defending this country except us Filipinos,” he said of the likelihood of a Chinese protest.

China so far has not made any comments about the exercises, but the Philippine military issued the statement ahead of anticipated criticism from Beijing. Some Filipino nationalist groups have in the past criticized the drills, saying these were bringing the Philippines closer to war in case hostilities break out between China and Taiwan, which Washington has committed to protect as well.

“This is also not a provocation. We are not provoking anybody by simply exercising,” the colonel said.

“Everything that we are doing here is only within our territory. Our exercises are not aggressive. We term our exercise as defenses so we are doing maritime defense, territorial defense, coastal defense.” 

The 2023 Balikatan will have the largest number of participants since the annual exercise began in the 1990s.

One of the activities to be conducted is a ship-sinking exercise off Zambales, a Philippine province that faces Scarborough Shoal, or as Manila calls it, Panatag Shoal, a disputed territory in the South China Sea. The shoal is only 198 kilometers (123 miles) from the strategic Subic Bay but remains under Beijing’s control.

In 2016, A U.N. tribunal dismissed China’s sweeping claims over most of the South China Sea, including Scarborough Shoal, but Beijing refused to recognize the ruling.

Logico said the live-fire exercise would be held within the Philippines’ 12-nautical mile territorial waters.

“If other countries or other critics might think in the wrong way, we would like to tell them that this is actually a form of deterrence and there’s a difference between deterrence and provocation,” he said, without specifically naming China.

In line with the live-fire exercise off Zambales, Logico said the Americans procured a decommissioned fishing vessel, which is a little more than 200 feet long, to serve as a target.

Meanwhile, two F-22 fighter-jets from the U.S. Pacific Air Forces landed for the first time at Clark Air Base on Monday, the Philippine Air Force (PAF) said on Tuesday. They were accompanied by a KC-135 refueling tanker plane.

Col. Maria Consuelo Castillo, a PAF spokeswoman, said the Americans flew in the aircraft to “show capabilities.”

“The bilateral exchanges focused on the capabilities of fighter aircraft operated by the two air forces as a prelude to other upcoming engagements to promote air domain awareness, agile combat employment, interoperability and other bilateral air objectives,” Castillo said.

Jeoffrey Maitem and Jojo Riñoza contributed to this report from Manila and Dagupan City, northern Philippines.


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