Under the Red Dragon’s shadow

PRESIDENT Ferdinand R. “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.’s strong stance on the still-raging territorial issue with China, that he will not preside over a process that will abandon even an inch of the country’s territorial domain, has been clearly well received and understood abroad, especially by like-minded states from the West.

Barely more than a month after Marcos made the declaration before Filipinos, the country has seen a sharp uptick in its defense and security and diplomatic engagements with partners and allies, with both the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Department of National Defense (DND) at the center and of these activities.

Senior Undersecretary Jose C. Faustino Jr., officer in charge of the Department of National Defense, right, receives Mary Kay L. Carlson, Ambassador of the US to the Philippines, during her introductory call on August 31, 2022, at Camp General Emilio Aguinaldo, Quezon City.

Meetings and exercises

OVER the past weeks, the AFP and the DND have been busy attending discussions and meetings, joining bilateral and trilateral military training and in hosting dignitaries and top-ranking military officials from the US, Europe, Asia-Pacific and Southeast Asia, with defense and security as the focus.

This week, Filipino and American elite forces will cap the “Balance Piston,” a monthlong military drill which is being held in the waters off Palawan and not far away from the West Philippine Sea, which is being disputed by China.

Airborne units from the Philippine Army and the US Army Special Operations Command Pacific (SOCPAC) undertook Balance Piston to enhance their joint interoperability.

The training focuses on long-range marksmanship, combat marksmanship, close-quarters combat, small-unit tactics, unconventional warfare, maritime operations and full mission profile or culmination exercise.

United States Marine Corps Commandant General David H. Berger (left) meets with Armed Forces of the Philippines Deputy Chief of Staff Vice Admiral Rommel Anthony SD Reyes at Camp Aguinaldo.

Just a week ago, the Philippine Coast Guard and the United States Coast Guard (USCG) also held the search and rescue (SAR) exercise, the first for both in years, in the waters off Bataan and not too far away from the Chinese-occupied Scarborough Shoal near Zambales.

The drills with the USCG Midgett, which also saw a series of sea-phase demonstrations, involved communication exercises, maneuvering drills, photo exercises, decoding messages through flag hoisting, flashing exercises, publication exercises, small-boat operations, boarding operations, SAR exercises and medical assistance.

To the Land Down Under

IN Darwin, Australia, the Philippine Army and the Australian Defence Force ended the monthlong Exercise Carabaroo, which was joined by 150 troops from the Army’s 1st Brigade Combat Team, First Scout Ranger Regiment and Special Forces Regiment (Airborne) and their Australian counterparts trained alongside the US Marine Corps.

The Philippines and Australia have four security agreements, which include the 2012 Status of Visiting Forces Agreement and the 2021 Mutual Logistics Agreement.

Another training involving the First Scout Ranger Regiment and the Land Mobile Training Team of the Australian Army, which will last until October, is also being held at Camp Pablo Tecson, San Miguel, Bulacan.

Embassy of the Philippines Chargé d’Affaires Robespierre Bolivar (right) delivers a speech as Japanese Parliamentary Vice Minister for Defense Kimi Onoda (left) and US Deputy Chief of Mission Raymond Greene listen during an opening session of the Center for Strategic and International Studies on US-Japan-Philippines cooperation in maritime security Tuesday, September 6, 2022, in Tokyo. About 20 maritime security officials and experts from the three countries discussed maritime security cooperation at the two-day session.

“Exercise Kasangga” will have the Army Rangers share their skills and knowledge on jungle operations with the 3rd Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment.

On the other hand, the Australian troops will assist the Rangers in sharpening their urban operations capabilities.

Earlier, the Army’s First Scout Ranger Regiment (FSRR) and the Indonesian Army also held the “Dolphin Exercise” in West Java, Indonesia.

Both forces discussed a wide spectrum of military operations and held bilateral exercises on tactical combat casualty and close-quarters battle.

Aside from the exercises, the military is also already in the process of finalizing the next iterations of its various war games with the US, and this included the “Salaknib,” which is seen to be bigger next year, and will be conducted in two phases in various sites in Central and Northern Luzon next year.

More than 2,200 Filipino and American troops joined the previous iteration of the exercise.

Likewise, the Army and the US military have surveyed various areas in Luzon that will serve as staging grounds for the 2023 iteration of Balikatan, the biggest war games between the countries and which is also being participated by their allies that included Japan and Australia.

The 2023 phase of Balikatan is projected to include field-training exercises composed of combined and live-fire exercises and military operations on urban terrain.

In between successive military engagements with their partners and allies, the military and even the defense department have seen increased visits by officials where the South China Sea, cooperation and reassurance are the focus of discussions.

A couple of days ago, the commandant of the US Marine Corps General David Berger made a courtesy call at Camp Aguinaldo wherein during his meeting with Armed Forces Deputy Chief of Staff Vice Admiral Rommel Anthony SD Reyes, both underscored the need for a stronger military interoperability and the need to anticipate and address security challenges in the region.

The need for both countries to further strengthen their defense and military ties and work together in addressing regional challenges was again emphasized during the visit of US Secretary of the Navy Carlos del Toro to the DND and to the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) in late July.

Berger and Del Toro’s visits stressed the need to keep the South China Sea open to navigation and overflight.

Watching the South

DEL Toro’s presence in the country was followed by the unprecedented visit to Mindanao by a delegation from the United States House Armed Services Committee to check on the US security effort in the country.

Similar visits into the country were also carried out by Indonesian and Singaporean military officials, along with calls on the AFP and the DND, by various military and defense attachés of other countries.

The DND also saw the continued and successive courtesy calls by ambassadors from member-countries of the European Union, the US, Israel and Southeast Asia.

Just recently, DND Officer in Charge Jose Faustino Jr. and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III also spoke by phone where they affirmed their countries’ commitments to the Mutual Defense Treaty.

In Japan, Army chief Lt. Gen. Romeo Brawner and the Philippine Marine Corps signed an updated security agreement with the Japanese military, which could possibly pave the way for the holding of military exercises between the three forces.

Indeed, everyone, it seems, has been kept busy these days by the continuing undercurrent of tension in the region’s waters. Apparently, more people believe in the notion that to keep the peace, it’s always best to be ready for war, whether it’s military conflict or simply, realistically, for any mobilization that requires the well-honed expertise and interoperability of allied nations’ forces to deal with disasters, climate change or other crises.

Image credits: Michael Turner | Dreamstime.com, Pink Rose Fernandez/ DND, DCOMMS, AFP PAO, AP/Eugene Hoshiko

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