Drills involving the naval personnel of the Philippines, the United States, Japan, Australia, Canada, France, New Zealand, and Indonesia kicked off on Monday as the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) said it could not commit to constant patrols in the West Philippine Sea unless it acquires more ships.
At the opening rites of Exercise Samasama on Monday, Philippine Navy (PN) chief Vice Adm. Toribio Adaci Jr. said the strong military bond between the Philippines and the United States—and the capability of the PN to fight a war will be on full display in drills that run until Oct. 12.
Calling the drills “a beacon of cooperation and readiness,” Adaci said Exercise Samasama was aimed at enhancing interoperability and fostering regional cooperation among its participants.
“From territorial defense to countering transnational crimes, Samasama [helps] us to face an array of threats together,” Adaci said.
For the PN, Adaci said the exercise is a vital platform for capacity building and improving war-fighting capabilities in “various dimensions of modern naval operations from anti-submarine warfare, to electronic warfare.”
The drills enhance the Navy’s readiness to confront a spectrum of security challenges, Adaci noted.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) earlier said Exercise Samasama aims to further improve maritime integration and combined interoperability with the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF), Royal Australian Navy (RAN), Royal Canadian Navy (RCN), and the United Kingdom’s Royal Navy (RN) through subject-matter expert exchanges (SMEEs) and humanitarian assistance and disaster response table-top events.
The exercises will be held at the Naval Forces Southern Luzon area.
It added that the French Navy and RAN will send personnel to join the SMEEs while the Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN) and Indonesian Navy would join as observers.
Participating personnel for Exercise Samasama include 733 from the PN; 632 from the USN; 244 from the RCN; 169 from the JMSDF; 34 from the RN; seven from the French Navy; three from the RAN; two from the Indonesian Navy; and one from the RNZN.
Participating ships include the BRP Antonio Luna from the PN, USS Dewey and USNS Wally Schirra of the USN, RN’s HMS Spey, RCN’s HMCS Vancouver, and JMSDF’s JS Akebono.
Earlier, the Philippine Army and the Philippine Air Force completed a five-day interoperability exercise that stressed air-to-ground operations. The exercises ran from Sept. 25 to 30 at the 5th Infantry Division headquarters at Camp Melchor F. Dela Cruz in barangay Upi in Gamu, Isabela.
Meanwhile, the PCG said it can commit to increased presence in areas of the West Philippine Sea like Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough Shoal), but unless it acquires more ships, constant patrols would be unrealistic.
Speaking to Radyo 630’s TeleRadyo Serbisyo, Commodore Jay Tarriela — PCG’s spokesperson on the West Philippine Sea — said the Coast Guard can conduct “regular but not constant” patrols given its current fleet size.
He said Coast Guard Admiral Artemio Abu has committed the PCG to ensuring the safety of Filipino fishers at Bajo de Masinloc.
“The presence of our vessels gives confidence to our fishermen to come here again,” the PCG official added.
A fishers group, the Bigkis ng Mangingisda Federation condemned Chinese incursions into the traditional fishing ground.
“We urge the government to level up its efforts in reclaiming what is rightfully ours by asserting Philippine sovereign rights over the West Philippine Sea,” the group also said.
Tarriela said Monday that the Coast Guard fleet is too small to conduct round-the-clock patrols.
He said that the PCG currently only has three large offshore patrol vessels and 10 44-meter multi-role response vessels.
Ideally, he said, the Coast Guard should have at least four OPVs each to patrol Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao, and around three to five to keep an eye on the West Philippine Sea.
The PCG also needs smaller boats and support ships like buoy tenders, he said.
Apart from patrols in the West Philippine Sea, the Coast Guard also has to maintain a presence in the waters off the Zamboanga Peninsula, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi to protect sea lanes there.
“There are a lot of areas that we have to cover,” he said.
Tarriela added that the Coast Guard also needs more resources for its core functions, which include maritime safety, responding to maritime pollution, and maritime law enforcement.
House leaders last week said they would reallocate some confidential funds in the proposed national budget to the PCG and to other agencies watching over the West Philippine Sea.
Also on Monday, a coalition of advocates launched a Christmas donation drive to support fishers and frontliners in the West Philippine Sea affected by Chinese aggression there.
At a news conference in Quezon City, Edicio dela Torre, Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement (PRRM) president, said the donation boxes would be put up in schools, churches, communities, and workplaces to collect needed resources, such as food, water, medical supplies and other necessities.
The donations will benefit the fishing communities in Zambales, Palawan, Mindoro and Batangas, he added.