MANILA, Philippines – "Allies never stand alone."
Though he made the commitment to Philippine troops during his Manila visit in April, these words of US President Barack Obama rang clear at the end of the 12-day war games between the Philippines and US navies on Friday, October 10.
In his speech in Fort Bonifacio, Philippine Marines Commandant Major General Romeo Tanalgo recalled the words of the US President to cap the annual Philippine-US Amphibious Landing Exercises (PHIBLEX). (READ: Obama: U.S commitment to PH 'ironclad')
"Forged by common sacrifices and deepened by a shared history, both our countries remain bound by the principles of collective peace, democracy and freedom. To quote President Barack Obama, 'Allies never stand alone,'" Tanalgo said.
Against the backdrop of maritime disputes in the West Philippines Sea (South China Sea), up to 4,000 Philippine and US troops joined the PHIBLEX conducted in coasts facing the disputed waters.
While the Philippines puts primacy on the peaceful resolution of the conflict, Tanalgo vowed his men will protect the country's claim.
Filipino Marines are deployed in several islands claimed by the Philippines. There is also a handful of Marines deployed to man the BRP Sierra Madre, the ship intentionally ran aground by the Philippines on Ayungin Shoal to serve as an unconventional naval detachment.
"Tensions in the West Philippine Sea as a result of the excessive and expansive maritime and territorial claims have been aggravated by aggressive patterns of behavior of other claimant states and continue to pose a threat towards maintaining the peace and stability in the region," Tanalgo said.
He added, "Though the Philippines remains committed to pursue its claims through diplomatic and legal channels, we nevertheless remain equally commited in protecting what is ours, and in supporting the objectives of our defense alliances which have been a cornerstone of peace and stability in the region."
Like the Balikatan exercises between the US and Philippine militaries, PHIBLEX is also held annually but the activity is exclusive to the sailors and marines of the two country's navies.
The troops performed maneuvers involving two US warships and live ground fire exercises. They also simulated amphibious assaults to capture islands held by unidentified hostile forces. (READ: PH, US marines conduct exercises near China-held reef)
"The field training exercise has ensured that our forces are capable of integrating effectively through the various range of military operations from humanitarian assistance to security operations to territorial defense missions," said Tanalgo.
The exercises are held as the two countries are set to discuss details of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), the deal expanding existing cooperation activities between the two militaries. (READ: Coming up: PH, US meeting on EDCA details)
"Definitely through PHIBLEX, other bilateral exercises and the EDCA, we share the guarantee that US and Philippine Marines will march shoulder to shoulder towards the future – better prepared and more capable to work side by side in the face of uncertainties and new realities," said Tanalgo.