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Marcos hails ‘extremely important’ Aussie-Pinoy military drills

AUSSIE-PINOY WAR GAMES. Philippine and Australian troops perform a Combined Amphibious Assault exercise — one ending in a cloud of pink smoke — as part of ‘Exercise Alon’ at Naval Station Leovigildo Gantioqui in Zambales on Friday. Armed Forces photos

Australian and Filipino troops stormed a beach in the South China Sea in a military drill that simulated the retaking of an enemy-controlled island in the first major air, sea, and land exercises between the two countries.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. hailed the exercises as “an extremely important” example of close cooperation.

Some 1,200 Australian soldiers and 560 Filipino Marines took part in the beach landing, arriving in amphibious assault vehicles, by parachute, and on US Osprey aircraft.

Two advanced Australian F-35 fighter jets provided close air support, and Australian warships secured the surrounding waters.

China deploys hundreds of coast guard, navy, and other vessels to patrol and militarize reefs in the South China Sea, which it claims almost entirely, despite an international ruling that its position has no legal basis.

Friday’s joint drills took place at a naval base about 240 kilometers east of Scarborough Shoal, a rich fishing ground that China seized from the Philippines in 2012 after a tense standoff.

“Considering that there have been so many events that attest to the volatility of the region, this kind of exercise, this kind of close strategic cooperation between countries around the region is extremely important,” Marcos told reporters.

“It is an important aspect of how we prepare for any eventuality,” he said of the drills, which he watched with Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles.

He said the close strategic cooperation between the two countries would aid in enhancing the Philippines’ military proficiency.

The President is set to meet the Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese who will be in the Philippines for an official state visit from Sept. 7 to 8. Security and defense will be part of their discussions, Marcos said.

This week’s exercises came after Chinese coast guard vessels fired water cannon and blocked a Philippine resupply mission to Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal in the West Philippine Sea on Aug. 5.

The Philippine Navy deliberately grounded a World War II-era vessel on the shoal and set up a tiny garrison in 1999 to check China’s advance in the area.

On Tuesday, a second Philippine mission managed to deliver supplies to the outpost.

The Chinese coast guard said it had decided to allow the resupply on humanitarian grounds as the Philippine vessels “did not carry illegal building materials for large-scale reinforcements.”

The Philippines denied the Chinese claim, saying what it did in its own exclusive economic zone needs no approval from any other country.

The Philippines hosted a meeting this week with its fellow members in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China to negotiate a code of conduct in the South China Sea. Talks to craft such a document began more than 20 years ago. China has used the time to to build its capabilities by constructing artificial islands in the Spratlys in recent years. The lengthy and unproductive negotiations over the COC have also diverted regional attention away from Beijing’s disruptive actions around the South China Sea.

The Amphibious and Land Operation (ALON) exercises are geared toward elevating the effectiveness of the combined strategic operations and showcasing the participants’ coastal defense capabilities. The Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Australian Defense Force, and the United States Marine Corps are participants.

About 2,200 soldiers are taking part in ALON 2023, 1,200 from the ADF, 900 from the AFP, and 150 from the USMC.

Australia and the Philippines released a joint statement following the successful amphibious military drills conducted by the two armed forces in San Fernando, La Union.

After Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro met with Australian Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles, the two countries emphasized the close ties and partnerships between Canberra and Manila.

“Australia and the Philippines are close partners and friends, We share a firm commitment to a peaceful, stable, and prosperous region where all countries are free to exercise their sovereignty consistent with international law,” the joint statement said.

The Philippines and Australia will also continue their defense cooperation programs and broaden the scope of their cooperation and the complexity of their activities, they said.

Meanwhile, Japan has sent two navy vessels to Manila for five-month-long maritime exercises among Japanese, Filipino, American, and Australian soldiers intended to develop interoperability of the four countries’ alliance.

The JS Izumo (DDH-183) and JS Samidare (DD-106) docked at the Manila South Harbor on Friday to take part in the Indo-Pacific Deployment (IPD) Exercises 2023.

According to the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) website, the exercises started on April 20 and will run until Sept. 17, 2023.

Izumo is a light aircraft carrier that is the lead ship in the Izumo class of the JMSDF.

Samidare is the sixth Murasame-class destroyer belonging to the JMSD that was commissioned in March 2000.

The JMSDF said the two vessels have around 880 personnel in total.

The vessels’ visit “is in line with Japan’s firm commitment to working together with regional partners, and to demonstrate our interoperability and combined capabilities to ultimately achieve the vision of a ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP),’” the Japanese Embassy in Manila said, in a statement.

The JMSDF said the drills have two objectives, namely: to improve JMSDF tactical capabilities and to strengthen cooperation with partner navies in the Indo-Pacific region through conducting joint exercises, and to contribute to the peace and stability of the region and to enhance mutual understanding and relationship with partner countries through the deployment.

In other developments:

* Senator Raffy Tulfo pressed his recommendation that the Philippine Coast Guard conduct joint patrols with the US Navy in the disputed waters of the South China Sea, given the Chinese harassment of Filipino boats trying to resupply the BRP Sierra Madre on Ayungin Shoal.

* Teodoro said a US Navy aircraft seen during the latest resupply mission of the Philippines to BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal was conducting freedom of navigation operations on their own. “They were conducting freedom of navigation operations on their own, uncoordinated with us, which they do on a regular basis anyway,” Teodoro said of the US Navy Poseidon.

* Makabayan bloc lawmakers on Friday urged President Rodrigo Duterte to denounce and deny the Philippine government’s supposed promise to China to pull BRP Sierra Madre out of Ayungin Shoal. House Deputy Minority Leader France Castro said the former president has said nothing about the Chinese incursions into the country’s exclusive economic zone. “Why is he so quiet about this?” Castro said.

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