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Zambales, near Panatag, is war games site

THE FISHING community of Masinloc town launches its boats from the town port, which has a good view of the municipality’s coal plant. Whenever fishing is hampered at the Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal), the fishermen offer their boats as water taxis for villagers. ROBERT GONZAGA/INQUIRER CENTRAL LUZON

CITY OF SAN FERNANDO–Like in 2012, Filipino soldiers and US Marines will conduct more joint exercises in Zambales province, some 240 kilometers from the Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal), a territory being disputed by the Philippines and China.

Instead of holding a single event in Zambales, which faces the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), the Philippine-US Bilateral Amphibious Landing Exercise (Phiblex 14) will open with jungle survival training and small boat operations at the Leovigildo Gantioqui naval station in San Antonio town on Sept. 18.

In the same camp, a squad-level infantry tactics training is scheduled on Oct. 7, while another set of jungle survival training will be held on Oct. 10, a day before the closing of the three-week war games by

2,300 Filipino and American troops.

“Phiblex 14 is designed to improve interoperability, increase readiness and enhance the ability to respond to natural disasters or other regional contingencies,”  a statement from the US Embassy in Manila said.

It will also “enhance local infrastructure and quality of life and build upon vibrant professional and personal relationships between Philippine and US Marines.”

The exercise is being held under the 62-year-old Mutual Defense Treaty between the two countries. The Visiting Forces Agreement, which the Philippines approved in 1999, covers the presence and activities of foreign troops who are not allowed by the Constitution to permanently stay or set up bases.

Other exercises, training and Phiblex-related activities will be held in Subic Bay Freeport, Ternate town in Cavite province, Crow Valley Range in Camp O’Donnell in Capas town in Tarlac province,  Legazpi City in Albay province, Fort Bonifacio in Taguig City, and Air Force City in Clark Freeport.

The Phiblex 13, held on

Oct. 8-18 last year, carried out majority of its activities in Zambales, with the embassy describing it as part of a “continuing series of exercises designed to promote regional peace and security by ensuring interoperability and readiness of Philippine and US forces.â€

At least 75 concrete blocks were detected at the Panatag Shoal, known as Bajo de Masinloc to locals, two weeks ago. Philippine defense officials said their presence was an indication of China’s intent to fortify its presence in the shoal.

China claims the territory, referring to it as Huangyan Island.

At Fort del Pilar in Baguio City on Saturday, Maj. Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr., commander of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Northern Luzon Command, said the military continued to tighten patrols over the coastlines, given the tension over the Panatag Shoal.

But he said the AFP needed new ships that could endure high waves and typhoons. “We need warships, bigger ships and maritime patrol aircraft. This is now being addressed by our AFP modernization program,”  he said.

Catapang was guest of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA), which formally recognized the members of the PMA Salacnib Class of 2017.

In January, the Philippines asked the United Nations to rule on the validity of China’s claim to the entire South China Sea, which the Philippine government officially calls West Philippine Sea. Tonette Orejas, Inquirer Central Luzon, with a report from Vincent Cabreza, Inquirer Northern Luzon

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Tags: China , Military Exercises , Panatag Shoal , Philippines , Scarborough shoal , Territorial dispute , US , war games , Zambales

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