US troops display military prowess in joint exercises with Philippines

Jeoffrey Maitem, Mark Navales and Jojo Riñoza
San Antonio, Philippines
US troops display military prowess in joint exercises with Philippines A U.S. Patriot surface-to-air missile is fired along the shoreline of San Antonio town in Zambales province facing the South China Sea in the Philippines as part of the annual joint training exercises, April 25, 2023.
Mark Navales/BenarNews

U.S. troops participating in the largest-ever joint drills with the Philippines showcased their military prowess on Tuesday amid heightened regional tensions between China and Taiwan.

Philippine soldiers were shown live-fire demonstrations of the Patriot and Avenger missiles, and the Stinger air defense system, in northern Zambales province that faces the South China Sea.

Zambales is on the country’s western coast, facing the disputed South China Sea, where Beijing has territorial squabbles with some of its Southeast Asian neighbors. Brunei, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan have overlapping claims with China’s in the waterway. Indonesia, while not a party, is locked in a separate dispute with China over one of its islands. 

Washington was duty bound to come to Manila’s aid if the latter invoked the U.S.-Philippine 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, said U.S. Maj. Gen. Brian Gibson, commanding general of the 94th Army Air and Missile Defense Command. 

“When the call comes, if it comes, we will be absolutely prepared to do what’s asked,” Gibson told reporters. 

“And the more we do in places like this, the more assured our forces can be that if that call comes, which we hope does not come, we are prepared to do it.” 

U.S. soldiers load missiles for a live-fire demonstration as part of a joint military exercise in Zambales province, Philippines, April 25, 2023. [Jojo Riñoza/BenarNews]

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. was expected to arrive in Zambales on Wednesday to witness the highlight of the joint exercises – the sinking of a decommissioned Philippine Navy ship using U.S. weapons.

Troops are scheduled to sink the BRP Pangasinan (PS-31), a World War II-era corvette. The Philippine contingent will highlight recent training on the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System used to stop enemy forces from long distances.

This first-of-its-kind exercise is being seen by regional observers as the allies flexing their military muscles in light of China’s increasing assertiveness in the South China Sea area. 

Philippine and U.S. soldiers interact as they watch a live-fire demonstration of the Avenger missile system in Zambales province in the Philippines, April 25, 2023. [Jason Gutierrez/BenarNews]

The most recent drills, part of the annual Balikatan – meaning “shoulder-to-shoulder” in Tagalog – bilateral training, occurred just days after Philippine Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo hosted Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang in Manila.

Their meeting came shortly after the Chinese envoy to the Philippines said Manila must “unequivocally oppose Taiwan independence rather than stoking the fire by offering the U.S. access to the military bases near the Taiwan Strait.”

The envoy, Huang Xilian, also commented on the safety of 150,000 Filipino workers in Taiwan. 

Qin reminded Manalo of the “promises” the two nations have made to each other, in what appeared to be a reference to the One China policy.

A drone takes off from a Philippine naval base in the northwestern province of Zambales, April 25, 2023. [Mark Navales/BenarNews]
A drone flies over water during U.S.-Philippine joint military exercises in Zambales, Philippines, April 25, 2023. [Mark Navales/BenarNews]

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