PH, US to hold war games off Scarborough Shoal
But the Philippines and the US do not expect China to raise its hackles, as the joint maneuvers will be held in waters between Panatag Shoal (also known as Bajo de Masinloc) and the Luzon mainland, about 108 kilometers east of the disputed reef.
That is “very far” from Panatag Shoal, about the distance between Manila and Tarlac, so China cannot view it as an act of “intimidation,” said Lt. Cmdr. Gregory Fabic, spokesperson for the Philippine Navy.
Moreover, holding the naval exercises off northern Luzon had been planned long before the Philippines’ standoff with China at the reef last year, Fabic said.
The joint naval maneuvers will be held from June 27 to July 2.
Technically, the Philippines and China are still in a standoff in the area. Philippine vessels withdrew at the height of a typhoon in mid-June last year to ease tensions at the shoal.
But the Chinese ships never left the area, cordoning off the mouth of the shoal’s lagoon to prevent entry of fishing boats from other countries.
As it has no capability to drive off the Chinese vessels by force, the Philippines took the dispute to the United Nations in January for arbitration.
The Philippines and China also have rival claims in the Spratly archipelago, a scattering of islets, reefs and atolls in the middle of the West Philippine Sea believed to be sitting atop vast energy resources.
Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan also claim parts of the Spratlys in rivalry with China, which claims nearly all of the sea as its territory.
Called Cooperation Afloat Readiness Training (Carat), the naval maneuvers are a “five-year planned exercise” with the US Navy that began in 2011 and goes around the different naval forces commands in the country, Fabic said.
It was just a coincidence that Carat will be held this year in northern Luzon near Panatag Shoal, he added.
Carat was held in the Naval Forces Eastern Mindanao in Davao last year. It will be in the Naval Forces West in Palawan next year and in the Naval Forces Eastern Mindanao in Davao in 2015, he said.
Exercises with allies
The US Pacific Fleet conducts Carat with the armed forces of its allies in the Asia-Pacific region, such as Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, East Timor and the Philippines.
“This aims to enhance the Philippine Navy and US Navy capabilities in naval operations through exchanges and tactical exercises,” Fabic said.
The exchanges, he said, include communications, naval surface operations, counterterrorism and maritime security operations, as well as humanitarian assistance and disaster response operations.
Taking part in the naval exercise are an unspecified number of Philippine and US naval vessels, Marine companies, the Philippine Naval Special Operations Group, Naval Construction Brigade or the Sea Bees Engineers and Philippine Coast Guard vessels, aircraft and diving and special operations teams.
AFP confirms re-provisioning, troop rotation activities in Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal)
MANILA, Philippines – Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff General Emmanuel Bautista on Wednesday confirmed that the military has launched re-provisioning and troop rotation activities in the Ayungin Shoal.
“We have rotated the troops, periodically [we’re doing this], and we are resupplying them…,” he told reporters in an ambush interview at Camp Aguinaldo.
He said that the last crew rotation and re-supply operation was held only this month, adding that they do this on a regular basis, not only in Ayungin but also in other islands.
Bautista said they were not able to encounter any Chinese blockade during the re-supply.
The Philippines protested last month the intrusion of a Chinese warship and maritime surveillance vessels in Ayungin shoal, which is within the Philippine territory. The Chinese have continued their presence in the shoal, but the number of vessels varies, said Bautista.
The AFP Chief also emphasized that they will remain “non-confrontational” in dealing with China.
“We support the arbitration process [and] we will be non-confrontational. We do not want any conflict with any of our neighbors and we will continue to support the arbitration [efforts],” he told reporters.