The Philippine military said Wednesday it had concluded live-fire training in Palawan, on the frontline of the country’s territorial dispute with Beijing over the South China Sea, days before U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris is due to visit the island.
The number two American government official is expected to arrive in the Philippines this coming weekend and meet with officials in Palawan next week, including officials from the country’s coast guard. It recently reported about ongoing incursions by Chinese navy and fishing vessels in Philippine territorial waters.
The Philippine military carried out its Combined Arms and Littoral Live Fire Exercises, CALLFEX, in Rizal, a coastal town facing the South China Sea. The drills involving army troops and other branches of the armed forces were intended to “enhance their interoperability” and hone their combat skills on the land and in the air and sea, officials said.
“It aims to improve the synchronization and integration of available assets, especially in providing support to ground forces to defeat the enemy,” said Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos, commander of the military’s Western Command, based on Palawan, according to BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.
CALLFEX, among the major events on this year’s calendar of unilateral exercises, opened earlier this month.
Military chief Lt. Gen. Bartolome Bacarro also visited the Western Command on Wednesday, during which he sought updates on developments in the South China Sea. The Philippines refers to contested waterway as the West Philippine Sea.
The press was not given specifics but was informed that Bacarro and Carlos talked about “the current and emerging security situation in the West Philippine Sea,” according to Maj. Cherryl Tindog, spokeswoman for the Western Command.The CALLFEX drills ended as the new Marcos administration was preparing to welcome Kamala Harris to the Philippines.
The U.S. vice president is to arrive in Manila on Sunday evening from Bangkok, where she will head the American delegation at a summit of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders, the White House said.
She is expected to call on President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. before flying to Palawan on Tuesday.
“The focus with President Marcos will be two-fold: strengthening our security alliance and economic relationship,” a senior administration official told reporters during a briefing by conference call on Wednesday (Manila time).
Harris is also expected to reaffirm defense commitments by Washington to Manila, its military ally in Southeast Asia for over 70 years.
“On security, the vice president will reaffirm our defense commitments to the Philippines and the importance of our alliance in peace and stability in the South China Sea,” the official said. “They will discuss upholding international rules and norms.”
In Palawan, Harris is expected to meet with local residents, civil society leaders, and representatives from the Philippine Coast Guard.
“This is another historic visit, as the vice president is the highest-ranking U.S. official ever to visit Palawan,” the official said.
Through Harris’ trip to the island the Biden administration seeks to underscore its “commitment to stand with our Philippine ally in upholding the rules-based international maritime order in the South China Sea, supporting maritime livelihoods, and countering illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing,” according to the official.