U.S. and Philippines Start Training Exercise

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SUBIC BAY, the Philippines -- Marines from the Philippines and the United States began 10 days of joint exercises focused on disaster relief, humanitarian assistance and maritime security.

The exercises, now in their 29th year, come at a time of increased tensions in the South China Sea with the Philippines and China involved in a territorial dispute over islands lying near rich energy deposits.

Some 2,600 American Marines and 1,200 of their Filipino counterparts will be training around the northern island of Luzon. "Today, we stand side by side as we face common threats," said Brig. Gen. Craig Q. Timberlake of the United States Marines at the opening ceremony, held on the American amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard in Subic Bay, a former United States naval base in the Philippines that is now a commercial port. On the assault ship's deck, round-attack Harrier jets were lined up near CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters. At the pier next to the ship was the Olympia, a nuclear-powered fast attack submarine.

Brig. Gen. Remigio C. Valdez, the deputy commander of the Philippine armed forces, stressed that the training was not related to the territorial dispute, but rather an "opportunity for an exchange of professional expertise."

"Technological advancement is at the heart of its goal," he said.

But the Philippine fleet, whose largest vessel is a former United States Coast Guard cutter, will have no ships participating in the exercises. "It's not about the hardware," said Col. John E. Merna, the commanding officer of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit. "We have a lot to learn from the Philippines. They are tremendous jungle fighters."

Marines will conduct live fire exercises, a simulated helicopter raid, a demonstration of American aircraft capabilities, disaster preparedness drills and public service activities, such as building classrooms and toilets in impoverished areas.

The United States announced last year that it would increase joint training exercises and ship visits to the region as part of a "pivot" toward Asia to counter the growing influence of China. The Philippine president, Benigno S. Aquino III, has welcomed an increased number of visits by American troops, aircraft and ships.

The Philippines has had a sometimes contentious relationship with the United States military. In the 1980s, violent protests were held in many parts of the country to protest American bases. The last American military facility, Subic Bay Naval Station, was closed in 1992.

Protesters were nowhere to be found in Subic on Monday. The only crowd gathered near the docked ship was composed of vendors trying to sell T-shirts and cold drinks to the visiting sailors.

The Communist Party of the Philippines was one of the few groups to make even a statement of protest about the visit by the United States Marines.

"In collaboration with the Aquino government, the U.S. has been using the Philippines as one of its military outposts in launching interventionist operations," the organization said Friday.


This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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