Philippines, US, Japan to hold first trilateral maritime exercises this week

Raffy Cabristante, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 29 2023 11:04 AM | Updated as of May 29 2023 01:42 PM

An Elite force of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) joins an anti-piracy drill on the deck of BRP Gabriela Silang patrol ship during a maritime exercise in the waters of Manila Bay on Sept. 2, 2022. Francis Malasig, EPA-EFE/file
An Elite force of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) joins an anti-piracy drill on the deck of BRP Gabriela Silang patrol ship during a maritime exercise in the waters of Manila Bay on Sept. 2, 2022. Francis Malasig, EPA-EFE/file

MANILA (UPDATED) — For the first time, the Philippines will hold a trilateral maritime exercise with the United States and Japan this week, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) said Monday.

PCG said it would conduct the exercises with its American and Japanese counterparts in the waters off Mariveles, Bataan from June 1 to 7.

The Philippines will deploy 4 of its vessels for the said activity: BRP Melchora Aquino (MRRV-9702), BRP Gabriela Silang (OPV-8301), BRP Boracay (FPB-2401), and one 44-meter multi-role response vessel.

The US and Japan Coast Guards will send their USCGC Stratton (WMSL-752) and Akitsushima (PLH-32) vessels, respectively.

"The PCG-USCG-JCG maritime exercise would strengthen interoperability through communication exercises, maneuvering drills, photo exercises, maritime law enforcement training, search and rescue (SAR), and passing exercises," the PCG said in a statement.

The activity will also "improve maritime cooperation and understanding," PCG officer-in-charge Vice Adm. Rolando Lizor Punzalan Jr. said.

"The US Coast Guard and Japan Coast Guard have been assisting us in our human resource development program, particularly in law enforcement training. This is a good opportunity to thank and show them what our personnel learned from their programs," Punzalan added.

The exercises will include a simulation on piracy, where PCG personnel will demonstrate a scenario on a suspected pirate ship. The joint law enforcement team from the 3 countries will conduct a boarding inspection followed by an SAR operation, PCG said.

An arrival ceremony welcoming the US and Japanese contingents is set on June 1 at the Pier 15 of Manila's South Harbor. This will also mark the beginning of the exercises.

US Ambassador to the Philippines MaryKay Carlson, Japanese Deputy Chief of Mission and Minister Kenichi Matsuda, Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo, Transport Secretary Jaime Bautista, and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) Chief Philippine Representative Takema Sakamoto have been invited to attend the ceremony, PCG added.

The exercises will be held amid continuing tensions between the Philippines and China in the South China Sea, some parts of which Manila calls the West Philippine Sea.

Earlier this year, a Japanese news agency reported that a possible tripartite agreement among the Philippines, the United States, and Japan had been agreed "in principle" during President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.'s official visit to the East Asian country. 

"It is part of an ongoing process that we are undertaking to make more solid partnerships and alliances that we are beginning to put together in our area," Marcos said of the proposed deal last February. 

PCG Spokesperson Rear Adm. Armand Balilo said the drills were an initiative by the US and Japan Coast Guards, as they have been sending letters of request to the Philippines since February.

"Tayo naman laging may exercise with US at may separate with Japan. But this is the first time that we will conduct and exercise na tatlong bansa ang magkakasama," he said.

(We've always had separate exercises with the US and Japan. But this is the first time that all three countries will be conducting exercises together.)


Balilo also clarified that the upcoming trilateral drills have "nothing to do" with the growing maritime tensions in the South China Sea. 

"Ito ay search and rescue and law enforcement. It has nothing to do with the West Philippine Sea," Balilo said.

Last September, two Chinese Coast Guard vessels were seen when Philippine and US Coast Guard personnel were conducting search and rescue exercises also in Bataan.

"Dumaan lang naman iyong Chinese Coast Guard last time during the exercise. They have freedom of navigation, wag lang sila mag-stay. We'll come up with a contingency plan should there be na may dumaan na Chinese Coast Guard at nag-monitor," Balilo said.

(The Chinese Coast Guard was only passing by during the exercise last time. They have the freedom of navigation as long as they don't stay in our waters. We'll come up with a contingency plan and monitor should they pass by again this time.)

— With report from Jacque Manabat, ABS-CBN News


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