Armed Forces of the Philippines

‘Better to prepare’: Batanes starts planning Taiwan contingency 

Sofia Tomacruz

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‘Better to prepare’: Batanes starts planning Taiwan contingency 

BALIKATAN. The AFP holds a consultation meeting with local officials in Batanes about the ongoing Balikatan Exercises, April 17, 2023.

Courtesy of the Provincial Government of Batanes

'If there were no tensions around Taiwan, our residents wouldn’t be so worried,' says Batanes Governor Marilou Cayco

BATANES, Philippines – With an eye over Taiwan, the Philippines’ northernmost province has started planning contingencies in the event that conflict breaks out in the region. 

Plans and preparations for a Taiwan crisis were among issues tackled in a consultative meeting in Basco, Batanes, between local officials of the island and top officers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Northern Luzon Command (NolCom). The meeting took place on Monday, April 17, to address concerns raised by residents of the province in recent weeks. 

Batanes Governor Marilou Cayco requested the meeting with NolCom after local officials and residents expressed worry over risks that joint exercises with American troops could bring to the island. 

Of the 111 activities included in the 2023 Balikatan joint exercises between the Philippines and United States, three will take place in Batanes. Exercises planned in Batanes include training that will simulate the defense of the island from potential aggressors. 

It will be the third time Batanes would host Balikatan exercises. But unlike in the past, Cayco said locals have taken more notice of the military exercises this year. 

“If there were no tensions around Taiwan, our residents wouldn’t be so worried,” Batanes Governor Marilou Cayco said. “Especially for those who don’t understand [the joint exercise], when they see on TV or hear on the radio that there are tensions – if there were no tensions they wouldn’t have paid much attention [to the Balikatan exercise].” 

Batanes sits as the country’s northern frontier, with its northernmost island Itbayat located less than 150 kilometers from Taiwan’s southernmost tip. 

NolCom deputy commander for training Lieutenant Colonel Loel Egos said among activities to be done as part of Balikatan exercises this year include air assault operations, nonstandard maritime and free fall infiltration, as well as a simulation of the transport of High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) at sea using landing craft utility vessels. 

The HIMARS, used in live-fire exercises during previous joint training with the US, will not be fired in Batanes, Egos said. 

Egos likewise explained to local leaders that exercises on the island were being done to improve the capability of Filipino troops to defend the country. “‘Di bale kung hindi maganap, basta handa tayo (Even if it may never happen, we will be prepared),” he said. 

Locals prepare 

On the part of the local government, Cayco said officials planned to meet this week to start crafting plans for any contingency involving Taiwan. 

In particular, Cayco said the local government planned to form committees to handle preparations necessary for security, food sufficiency, health, logistics, and the handling of refugees. An executive management committee, operation and coordination committee, finance committee, and contingency planning committee would also be formed. 

Kahit sabihin nila na overacting, mas mabuti na ang handa kaysa nasa huli ang pagsisisi,” Cayco said. (Even if others will sat that it’s overacting, it’s better to be prepared than to regret later on.) 

Cayco said residents were especially worried about food security considering the island was dependent on supplies from mainland Luzon. Last April 10, the island experienced a shortage in rice after free fall exercises in the island caused panic among some residents and prompted many to stock up food items. 

NolCom Deputy Commander Commodore Karl Decapia assured local leaders of the province that the military had plans in place for their community in case a crisis in Taiwan would break out. 

“Our objective is to remove the fears of the people of Batanes,” he said. 

Naval Forces NolCom Commander Commodore Francisco Tagamolila Jr. also said that the government’s foremost priority was securing the safety of 158,000 Filipinos living and working in Taiwan. 

The statement came after Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian came under fire for saying that the Philippines should oppose “Taiwan independence” if it cared for Filipinos living in the self-governing island. Responding to this, the Department of Migrant Workers and Manila Economic Cultural Office earlier said that overseas Filipino workers in Taiwan were reported safe and their interests were “well-protected.”

Upgrade infrastructure 

Meanwhile, Cayco said upgrading the island’s infrastructure, including its airports and seaports, would also be needed to ensure Batanes was ready for any contingency involving Taiwan. 

Further developments eyed by officials of the island included the construction of a breakwater for Basco Port, upgrading of a port in Itbayat, and equipping the Batanes airport for night operations. 

Beyond Taiwan, Cayco said improving the island’s ports and airport would likewise aid in any post-disaster and humanitarian relief efforts as well as food security and any medical emergency. 

Owing to this, Cayco expressed hope that were Batanes selected to host a future EDCA site, its infrastructure needs would be addressed. 

Wala kaming kakayahan i-develop ‘yung aming airports and seaports. Dependent kami on national to develop ‘yung aming airport and seaports. Kung meron mang ibabang tutulong kagaya ng US army mas pabor po sa amin ‘yan,” she said. 

(We don’t have the capacity to develop our airports and seaports. We’re dependent on the national government to develop our airports and seaports. If there are others who can help, like the US army, that would be in our favor.) 

Earlier this month, the Philippines and US revealed the location of four new sites under its Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) – two of which were in Cagayan, while the remaining were in Isabela and Balabac, Palawan. 

Following the announcement, Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romuladez said the two countries were also studying whether it would include more sites under the EDCA. 

“Everything is being studied. It depends on whether we need it or not,” he told CNN Philippines. –

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Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers defense and foreign affairs. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz.