Philippines ‘more secure’ after war games with US

Posted on May 01, 2015

THE PHILIPPINES “is becoming more secure,” a United States official said on Thursday, after both countries formally concluded annual war games at an event in Clark Air Base in Pampanga.

“The Philippines is becoming more secure but its neighbors do not become less,” US exercise director Lt. Gen. John A. Toolan said, a reference to China, which has undertaken massive reclamation activities over territories claimed by both Beijing and Manila.

The military exercises, which involved hundreds of Filipino and American troops and more than 50 Australian soldiers, began on April 21 at the Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, an area that Manila calls the West Philippine Sea.

The shoal is a rich fishing ground China has controlled since the end of a maritime standoff with the Philippines in 2012.

For his part, Philippines exercise director Vice-Admiral Alexander S. Lopez highlighted the importance of the military exercises between the two allies.

In his message, Mr. Lopez said that the war games was the “link among all major events to the general exercise scenario that focused on territorial defense with humanitarian and disaster response implications.”

Owing to the Balikatan (shoulder to shoulder) 2015 exercises, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) now has “enhanced capacity, capability and interoperability,” Mr. Lopez added.

This year’s exercises -- the 31st conducted after both countries entered into a Mutual Defense Treaty -- is a “milestone” in the AFP’s commitment to meeting the actual demands of defending the Philippines, AFP chief Gregorio Pio P. Catapang, Jr. said in a chance interview.

In addressing global challenges, Mr. Catapang said that there is “no other country we can think of (for assistance)” but the United States.

Mr. Catapang added that the Philippines is “not doing anything inside the areas that we control” except for “maintaining the area” in the West Philippine Sea. -- E. E. Escaño