More than 3,000 Filipino and U.S. soldiers will participate in a three-week-long annual exercise that began on Monday in order to tighten the Philippines’ defensive capabilities to China’s distaste.
The exercise follows President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s decision last month to broaden the United States’ access to his country’s military bases. This has gotten on Beijing’s nerves because it sees the Philippines as a major bone of contention with Washington.
The three-week-long annual exercises dubbed Salaknib are going to involve multiple small-arms live-fire exercises, artillery, and mortar live-fire events, as well as construction projects.
“The scenarios would involve the defense of the Philippine archipelago from potential foreign aggressors,” Philippines Army Chief Lieutenant General Romeo Brawner told reporters following the opening ceremony.
Since this is an army-to-army exercise, we will focus on defense operations such as air defense and also our defense from the shorelines,” he elaborated”.
Fort Magsaysay, the Philippines’ largest military camp, will work as the theater for the bulk of drill maneuvers. The base is also one of the five existing sites the United States has access to under its Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with Manila. The agreement authorizes the U.S. to use the bases in a variety of ways.
First of, the sites can be exploited for joint training and pre-positioning of equipment. Further, facilities such as runways, fuel storage, and military housing can be built therein. However, the U.S. cannot maintain a permanent presence at the sites.
The expanded agreement triggered China’s outcry with Beijing portraying it as “part of U.S. efforts to encircle and contain China through its military alliance with this country”.
“By doing these, the U.S. has not only heightened tension, driven a wedge between China and the Philippines, but also has disturbed and upset the joint effort of countries in this region to safeguard peace and stability in the South China Sea,” the spokesperson of the Chinese Embassy in Manila said in a statement on Sunday.
The locations of the remaining Filipino bases which the island nations decided to make accessible to the U.S. has yet to be disclosed. According to a former military chief, they include bases on the island of Luzon, facing north towards Taiwan, and on Palawan in the southwest, near the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.
Washington has committed $80 million worth of infrastructure investments at the five existing sites – the Antonio Bautista Air Base in Palawan, Basa Air Base in Pampanga, Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu and Lumbia Air Base in Mindanao./.