Philippines to hold joint naval drills with US and Japan

Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Force's destroyers sailing near Philippine warship BRP Ramon Alcaraz (left) during their first joint naval drill in the South China Sea last month. A second one will take place next week.
Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Force's destroyers sailing near Philippine warship BRP Ramon Alcaraz (left) during their first joint naval drill in the South China Sea last month. A second one will take place next week. PHOTO: REUTERS

Manila says exercises are regularly scheduled and not directed at China

MANILA - The Philippines will hold simultaneous naval drills next week with key allies the United States and Japan, the military said, as China reclaims land in the disputed South China Sea.

The annual joint manoeuvres with the US will include a P3-Orion spy plane flight and a helicopter crash and rescue simulation near disputed waters, officials said yesterday.

The exercises with Japan's Maritime Self-Defence Force, only the second ever, will be staged separately, but in the same week as the US exercise, Philippine navy spokesman Lued Lincuna said.

Commander Lincuna could not immediately provide details of the second exercise, but Japan's media, quoting official sources, said it would be staged in the South China Sea.

The Japanese media also said Japan would field a P3 surveillance aircraft.

"The joint training will help capacitate and familiarise our troops with modern equipment. There will be sharing of information, techniques and best practices on the tactical level," said Commander Lincuna, adding that the twin joint manoeuvres were not directed against China.

Philippine foreign affairs spokesman Charles Jose said: "They are regularly planned and scheduled exercises. With Japan, the focus is on search and rescue and disaster relief."

The US joint manoeuvres, Commander Lincuna said, would be conducted near Palawan Island. But they would be held off the eastern coast, rather than the South China Sea-facing west.

The US is the Philippines' longest-standing military ally, with both bound by a 64-year-old mutual defence treaty and separate visiting forces agreement.

However, a US-Philippine defence agreement that would help counter China's growing naval power in the South China Sea has yet to be implemented more than a year after it was signed.

The Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement gives US troops wide access to local military bases and approval to build facilities to store fuel and equipment for maritime security, but it was effectively frozen after left-wing politicians and other opponents challenged its constitutionality in the Philippine Supreme Court last year.

The court is expected to issue a ruling before US President Barack Obama visits Manila for a summit in November.

In another complication, 13 senators in the 24-member Philippine Senate have signed a draft resolution insisting the Upper House scrutinise the deal before it takes effect.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 19, 2015, with the headline 'Philippines to hold joint naval drills with US and Japan'. Print Edition | Subscribe