MANILA: Philippine and US navies on Wednesday launched their joint exercise and were joined by seven partner countries, as Manila seeks to boost its naval warfare capabilities and readiness to confront security challenges in the region.
Exercise Sama Sama started off as Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training in 1994 between the Philippines and America but changed into its current form in 2017. It seeks to increase interoperability, foster regional cooperation, and tackle non-traditional challenges.
This year, more than 1,800 navy personnel are taking part in the drills from Oct. 2 to 13, including from Japan, Canada, the UK, Australia, and France, while New Zealand and Indonesia are sending observers.
Philippine Navy Chief Vice Admiral Toribio Adaci Jr. noted that Sama Sama equips participating nations to “face an array of threats together,” from territorial defense to countering transnational crimes.
“For us in the Philippine Navy this activity serves as a vital platform for capacity building and empowers us to refine our naval warfare capabilities.
“This exercise enhances our readiness to confront a wide spectrum of security challenges,” Adaci said during his speech at the opening ceremony.
“This year, our interoperability exercises with the US Navy will center on warfighting serials, reinforcing our readiness for joint operations in the face of evolving threats.
“With this show of force and active engagement of our allies and partners, Sama Sama transcends (mere) military exercises. It is a symbol of our enduring partnerships and our shared commitment to security and stability in the Asia-Pacific region,” he added.
The exercises are taking place as tensions continue to rise between Manila and Beijing over territorial claims in the South China Sea.
The Philippines and China have repeatedly sparred in the resource-rich South China Sea, as Beijing maintained its claim over the region in its entirety while other nations also have claims.
Vessels of the two countries have faced off several times this year in areas Manila said is part of its exclusive economic zones.
Sama Sama also reflects increased defense engagements between the Philippines and the US since President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. took office last year, after relations ebbed during the previous administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, who leaned more toward Beijing.
Through Sama Sama, the Philippines was seeking to build relationships with allies and partner nations to boost its territorial defense capabilities, Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr., chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said.
“When it comes to territorial defense, we cannot do it alone. So, we have to leverage our alliances and our partnerships with like-minded nations. So that’s what we are doing,” Brawner told Arab News.
“Part of our defensive posture in the West Philippine Sea is doing operations together with our partners. So, the joint sail, joint exercises, these are all part of that overall build-up of our defensive posture in the area.”