MANILA, Philippines — Armed Forces chief of staff Gen. Hernando Iriberri said American military aircraft spotted at Clark Air Base are part of a maritime security training with United States forces.
An American Lockheed C-130 cargo plane and a Boeing P-8 maritime patrol aircraft were seen last weekend at the former US military facility in Angeles City, Pampanga.
"[The two American aircraft are] part of the maritime security bilateral training between our forces and the US. It's part of the activities approved by the MDB-SEB (Mutual Defense Board-Security Engagement Board) for 2015," Iriberri said.
The Philippines and the US have long been defense allies, forged by the Mutual Defense Treaty in 1951 dictating that both armed forces would come to each one's aid when either is attacked by external parties.
Iriberri said the ongoing training is similar to the yearly Balikatan and PHIBLEX amphibious exercises with US counterparts.
"Maritime security training is meant to upgrade our capabilities and expose our forces to new equipment," Iriberri said.
The top military official, however, declined to comment on questions on whether the training is linked to the country's maritime dispute with China, which has conducted widespread reclamation in areas in the West Philippine Sea claimed by the Philippines.
"[The bilateral training is] not directed against any country or any activity, it is just for the purpose of upgrading and the capability also of the Armed Forces," he said.
The US planes were spotted during the welcoming ceremony for the Philippine Air Force's new FA-50PH light-interim fighter jets arriving from South Korea.
The Clark Air Base was a US Air Force facility from 1903 to 1991, the year the Philippine Senate rejected the bases treaty allowing American forces to operate in the country.
The Philippines remains the largest recipient of maritime security assistance from the US, receiving a record $79 million, or about P3.73 billion, of the funds allocated this year for developing capabilities in the Southeast Asian region. — Camille Diola with PNA