US, PH Marines to hold drills facing Taiwan, West Philippine Sea

/ 06:13 PM June 03, 2024

MANILA, Philippines — The Marine Corps of the Philippines and the United States will hold exercises in the northernmost provinces of Luzon and Palawan — the areas facing Taiwan and the West Philippine Sea, respectively — as the highlight of the biggest-ever Marine drills between both nations.

The annual drills between Marine forces of Manila and Washington, dubbed as Marine Aviation Support Activity (Masa), formally began on Monday (June 3) in an opening ceremony here in Taguig City, marking the beginning of the exercise that will last until June 21.

Masa will be joined by 3,175 personnel, including 2,200 personnel from Washington, mostly from the United States Marine Corps (USMC), and 975 personnel from Manila, mostly from the Philippine Marine Corps (PMC). This year’s Masa beat the previously biggest bilateral marine drills held in 2023, which had 2,700 participants.

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Close air support drills between PMC and USMC will be held in Palawan, but the date has yet to be determined. Palawan faces the West Philippine Sea, a flashpoint of tensions between Manila and Beijing.

Despite this proximity, Masa’s exercise director Brigadier General Romeo Racadio said the drills “are not directly aimed at addressing or resolving those specific tensions.”

“While the tensions in the West Philippine Sea are complex and require diplomatic and political solutions, our focus during these exercises is on honing our military capabilities and fostering closer cooperation with our allies,” Racadio said in a statement.

Ilocos Norte will witness littoral live fire drills, while several subject matter expertise exchanges will be held in Batanes. These two provinces are relatively near Taiwan, a self-ruled island China sees as a renegade province subject to reunification.

Racadio also dismissed the association of the drills to the Taiwan scenario, saying the deployment in Ilocos Norte and Batanes is part of the PMC’s move to cover the entire archipelago.

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“It is not because of this specific geography or political jurisdiction fronting our northern Philippines,” Racadio said of Taiwan in a press conference, when asked if the location of the exercise had anything to do with the erupting tensions in the self-ruled island.

“Most of the deployment of the PMC are in the southern Philippines, so we adjusted our deployment so that we can cover 7,000 islands to provide maritime security posture to our archipelagic nation — that was the intent,” he added.

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