Coast Guard to join Balikatan exercises with US

Ghio Ong - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines —  For the first time, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) will join the Balikatan military exercises with the United States, with six of its vessels being readied for “humanitarian armed service” role in the 16-day drill slated to begin on Monday.

PCG commandant Admiral Ronnie Gil Gavan, according to PCG spokesman Rear Admiral Armand Balilo, has ordered the deployment of four 44-meter multi-role response vessels (MRRV) and two larger patrol vessels that “regularly conduct maritime security operations in the country’s exclusive economic zones” for the 39th iteration of the Balikatan.

Members of the PCG’s special operations force would also participate in “interoperability exercises with the Philippine Navy and their counterparts from Australia, France, and the United States,” Balilo also said.

This year’s Balikatan will have more participants and observers and will cover a wider area in the West Philippine Sea.

Amid China’s warning that the coming Balikatan would further stoke tension in the region, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has again clarified that the drill is just an annual event and not directed at any country.

“This longstanding initiative, spanning several years, is aimed at enhancing cooperation, fostering training opportunities, and strengthening regional stability,” AFP spokesperson Col. Francel Margareth Padilla said.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lin Jian earlier denounced the coming military drill with the US and other countries.

“The Philippines needs to be fully aware that when countries outside the region are brought into the South China Sea to flex muscles and stoke confrontation, tensions could get worse and the region will only become less stable,” he said.

“To hand over one’s security to forces outside the region will only lead to greater insecurity and turn oneself into someone else’s chess piece. We urge the Philippines to stop making maritime provocations. We urge relevant countries outside the region to stop stoking confrontation in the South China Sea,” Lin added.

He said China “will continue to take necessary measures to firmly safeguard our territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests and keep the South China Sea peaceful and stable.” –  Michael Punongbayan, Pia Lee-Brago, Emmanuel Tupas, Roel Pareño

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