US ships off to Palawan for PHL-US naval exercises

(Update 8:08 p.m.) Two United States Navy destroyers and a salvage ship are sailing to the Philippines this month for naval training exercises with Filipino counterparts off Palawan province, a Philippine Navy official said Monday.

The naval exercises come at a time of renewed tensions between the Philippines and China over the alleged intrusion of Chinese vessels into Philippine territorial waters near Palawan, but Navy spokesman Lt. Col. Omar Tonsay said the situation is a mere coincidence.

“Hindi related," said Tonsay in an interview Monday. “Matagal na siyang ginaganap between [the] third and second quarters. So, talagang every year."

Dubbed as the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training or CARAT, the exercises will be held from June 28 to July 8 within the Sulu Sea, just east of Palawan.

The US ships involved are the USS Chung-Hoon and USS Howard — a class of destroyers — and the rescue and salvage ship USNS Safeguard. As he is not privy to the information, Tonsay could not immediately say how many US servicemen will join CARAT.

From the Philippines, the official said four Navy ships will take part in the exercises. He also did not have the information on which ships and how many Filipino servicemen will take part in the naval exercises.

US and Philippine naval forces have been pursuing CARAT for over 10 years now. The US has the same arrangement with Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.

Exchange of best practices

“The objective is interoperability, our ability to operate with the US and vice versa and exchange of doctrinal and tactical best practices. We adopt their best practices if we can, and vice versa," Tonsay said.

Tonsay announcement came on the heels of a similar report from Vietnam which has staged live fire exercises within its territorial waters in the South China Sea. Like the Philippines, Vietnam has recently accused China of violating its sovereignty.

Apart from military operations, Tonsay that CARAT shall encompass community relations, diving and salvage exercises, and other “at-sea" training exercises, as well as subject matter expert exchange.

“In at-sea or fleeting training exercises, all will be covered. All tactics involved at sea will be covered…" he added.

Dispute to result in war?

Meanwhile, in an interview on GMA News’ “Unang Balita" newscast, a public policy expert said the Philippines must improve discussions on the Spratlys dispute to prevent it from escalating into war.

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“Kailangang palakasin ang usapan para hindi na matuloy sa giyera," said Dr. Prospero De Vera II, director of the University of the Philippines (UP) Center for Policy and Executive Development, in an interview with anchor Arnold Clavio on “Unang Balita."

“Ang mahalaga ay gamitin ng Pilipinas ang kanyang relasyon, unang una sa ASEAN, para gawing ASEAN-China discussion ito. Hindi dapat bilateral na Philippines at saka Tsina lang ang nag-uusap, kasi maliban sa may dalawa pang claimants sa ASEAN, kailangan ‘yung regional bloc talaga dahil regional issue ito, eh," De Vera explained.

In another interview on GMA News TV’s “News To Go" on Monday, an expert on Philippine-China relations said war is an unlikely consequence of the dispute between China and the Philippines.

“Kung titingnan mo ‘yung interes ng mga gobyerno — ng China, Vietnam, at Pilipinas – wala sa interes nila na lumaki pa ang isyu at magkaroon ng giyera," said Dr. Aileen Baviera, former dean of the UP Asian Center, in an interview with “News To Go" anchors Howie Severino and Kara David.

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“Siyempre, hindi mo naman maiaalis ‘yung posibilidad na magkaroon ng aksidente dahil may mga sundalo d’yan sa lugar na yan, kanya-kanyang mga battle warships, halimbawa… Kaya nga ‘yung mga bansa na ‘yon, dapat mag-usap-usap para maiwasan ang mga ganoong pangyayari," Baviera added.

Palace: Don’t blame the Filipino-Chinese

In Malacañang also on Monday, presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said he believes the territorial dispute will not breed anti-Chinese sentiment among Filipinos as he urged the public not to pin the blame on the Filipino-Chinese.

“No form of Sinophobia in our country… Most of us have Chinese blood one way or another," he said, admitting that he has Chinese blood, as well as the President.

“I think ang kailangan natin maalala ay huwag tayong mandamay ng mga hindi dapat idamay… I can say this for myself… we’re looking at this issue [from] the Filipino perspective," he added. — With Paterno Esmaquel II/ KBK/VS GMA News


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