October 3, 2023
MANILA – The Philippines and the United States began two weeks of joint naval exercises with partner countries on Monday, in a show of a united front at a time of rising tensions in the South China Sea.
Nearly 2,000 personnel are taking part in the annual “Sama-Sama” (together) Exercise, which will include participants from Australia, Canada, Japan, United Kingdom, France, New Zealand and Indonesia.
Philippine Navy chief Vice Adm. Toribio Adaci Jr. said this year’s exercise was “bigger than past iterations” since it started in 2017 as a bilateral drill between the Philippines and the United States. Canada, Japan and the United Kingdom have also sent their navy ships for the drills.
The drills come amid a territorial standoff between the Philippines and China in the West Philippine Sea, part of the South China Sea, which Beijing claims almost entirely.
‘Right to sail’
Last week, the Philippine Coast Guard said it removed floating barriers installed by China in Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, to prevent Filipino fishermen from entering the lagoon.
Chinese coast guard and maritime militia vessels also constantly harass Philippine ships carrying out resupply missions to the BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal.
He said the Sama-Sama drills underscore their demonstration “as a team” for calling the importance of the rule of law and a free and open Indo-Pacific.
“What we want is the normal rules-based international order that has served our region so well by operating and following laws and upheld very clearly stated in documents like Unclos. By demonstrating the importance of the rule of law, we decrease the chance for miscalculation,” he added.
Unclos stands for United Nations Convention on the Law and the Sea, which established “rules governing all uses of the oceans and their resources.”