US and Philippine militaries near the island of Luzon commenced on Monday joint training exercise meant to bolster cooperation and interoperability between the nations' troops.
Known as the Amphibious Landing Exercise (PHIBLEX), the ten-day exercise is an annual event, but this year it coincides with increasing tensions between a number of nations in the South China Sea.
China and the Philippines are currently entangled in a territorial dispute over a group of small islands. Ostensibly, the row is about territorial sovereignty, but it's well known the islands inhabit an area rich in natural resources.
China and Japan are also involved in similar dispute over small islands near energy resources. Other territorial claimants in the region include Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei.
Navy chief Vice Adm. Alexander Pama told the PhilStar.com during the PHIBLEX opening ceremony, “We see through this exercise that the spirit of the Philippines’ and the United States’ partnership is getting stronger.”
He added, “I am confident that they shall result in a partnership that is enduring as well as we shall be prepared to jointly face the present and emerging maritime challenges in this part of the region.”
Brig. Gen. Remigio C. Valdez, deputy commander of the Philippines' armed forces told The New York Times, “Amphibious Landing Exercises is an opportunity for an exchange of professional expertise. Technological advancement is at the heart of its goal.”
Over 2,000 US troops and 1,600 Filipino troops will conduct exercises that, The New York Times says, will focus on "disaster relief, humanitarian assistance and maritime security."
Earlier this year the US announced it would shift military focus to the Asia-Pacific.