MANILA, Philippines — Amid the rising tension over the disputed Spratly Islands, the naval forces of the United States and the Philippines will be holding almost two weeks of military war games off Palawan late this month.
But Marines Lt. Col. Omar Tonsay, Navy spokesman, said the joint military exercises are not a show of force with the country’s long-time ally, although the site of the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) for this year is proximate to the disputed island group.
“This is not related to that issue, this has been planned long before,” said Tonsay.
The Spratlys controversy cropped anew after the Philippines accused China of bullying and intruding in the disputed island groups which was backed up by another claimantcountry, Vietnam.
While the Philippines and Vietnam have been very vocal on the alleged bullying, it was Vietnam which reportedly started live-fire exercises near the disputed island group.
Tonsay would not confirm Vietnam’s live-fire drill, but stressed that no live-fire exercises are scheduled in the joint exercises between US and Philippines navies from June 28 to July 8.
What were initially listed, he revealed, are diving exercises, salvage exercises at sea, and sea training exercise, among others.
But even if there would be live-fire exercises, Tonsay stressed that other claimant-countries should not intervene for as long as they are held in international waters and within their respective territories.
“It (Vietnam live-fire drill) is not a provocative action, it is not a threat to security for as long as it is held in international waters or within its territory,” said Tonsay.
“In the same way that they are not supposed to take actions if we hold exercises within our territorial waters, all they could do is to monitor,” he added.
He said the CARAT activities is definitely not a provocative action on the part of the Philippines since both the US and the Philippines have been holding the exercises for 10 years now.
It was not clear, however, if this year’s CARAT will be held off Palawan for the first time. All that Tonsay could confirm is that CARAT activities are rotated in various parts of the country since it began 10 years ago.
“The objective is interoperability, our ability to operate with the US and vice versa and exchange of doctrinal and tactical best practices,” said Tonsay.
Tonsay revealed that three US ships will participate in the war games—USNS Safeguard, USS Howard and USS Chung Hoon— and will be joined by four Philippine Navy ships.