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DAVAO ORIENTAL, Philippines – Thunderous explosions and gunfire exchanges from Navy boats and a warship at Pujada Bay startled many Mati City residents on Thursday morning, November 23, despite prior public information campaigns about the war exercises.
Unaware of the exercises, panicked residents, thinking their city was under an attack, sprinted for safety.
“What are those deafening explosions? Are rebels attacking us again?” exclaimed a visibly terrified Miguelita Cuadro, a 72-year-old Mati resident.
As powerful gunshots echoed over the sea, at least two attack helicopters hovered and circled the city for over an hour.
“There were explosions and gunfire, and then the choppers hovered so low they almost hit our house. I had thought we were at war,” said Dimeterio Suansing, a Mati City college student living along the coastline.
The city government, however, had announced the scheduled sea and land-based Navy simulation exercises at the Mati City Port and Baywalk Park through various media platforms, including social media.
“Do not panic if you hear gunfire and explosions,” read one public advisory from the city government days before the exercise on its official Facebook page.
The Maritime Inter-Agency Exercise 2023-02 Capability Demonstration aimed to promote interoperability, cooperation, and preparedness among groups such as the Tactical Operations Wing Eastern Mindanao, Joint Task Force Agila, 66th Infantry Battalion of the Army, Coast Guard Southeastern Mindanao, and others.
“In today’s dynamic and interconnected world, the maritime domain poses unique challenges, from natural disasters to transnational threats,” said Navy Joint Task Force Seahawk Commander Carlos Sabarre.
Mati Mayor Michelle Rabat welcomed the war simulation exercises, saying it showcased the country’s current military capability in her city. – Rappler.com