Almost a thousand American and Filipino navy men and coast guards from both countries began on Monday a nine-day joint naval exercise in the southern Philippines’ Mindanao Sea, off general Santos City and Sarangani provinces, sources said.
Around 350 United States Navy personnel and 150 US Coast Guard personnel joined their counterparts, 400 Philippine Navy personnel and 50 Philippine Coast Guard personnel, on the first day of the joint war-games dubbed as Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) 2012, said Naval Forces Eastern Mindanao commander Commodore Philip Cacayan.
“This year, personnel from the Coast Guard were included in the war-games, upon the request of the US Coast Guard,” Cacayan said.
The US Navy deployed a 4,100-tonne frigate, USS Vandergrift; and USNS Safeguard, a Sealift Command salvage and rescue ship, while the US Coast Guard sent the USCG Waesche, a 4,306-tonne cutter, for the war-games.
The Philippine Navy deployed the corvettes BRPs Magat Salamat and Miguel Malvar, the fast patrol craft Salvador Abcede, and the coastal patrol craft Teotimo Figuracion, while the Philippine Coast Guard sent BRP Pampanga for the joint war-games.
The plan was for the US and Philippine Navy and the US and Philippine Coast Guard to undertake interoperable exercises, said Cacayan.
The US and the Philippines have been holding joint war-games since 1998, after the Philippine Congress ratified the US-Philippine Visiting Forces Agreement that was signed earlier at the executive level.
Since last year, the US has asked for increased joint war-games with Filipino counterparts.
Increased US presence in the Philippines has been seen as a deterrent to China’s flexing of might in the South China Sea.
China has issued a statement saying that the US, Philippines, and Vietnam should not politicalise the issue of contentious and overlapping claims in the South China Sea.
China, Taiwan, and Vietnam claim the whole of the South China Sea based on their historical rights. Brunei, Malaysia, and Philippines claim some parts of the Spratly Archipelago in the South China Sea, based on the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea which grants countries 200 nautical miles exclusive economic zones from their shores.