Philippines sends BRP Ramon Alcaraz off to ASEAN-U.S. naval drills

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippine Navy sent the Del Pilar-class patrol ship BRP Ramon Alcaraz off to Sattahip, Thailand, to participate in the first ever joint maritime exercises among the member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the US.

A Naval Task Group of 172 Philippine Navy sailors and marines pulled out from the Manila South Harbor on Thursday, August 29, after a send-off ceremony led by the Chief of Naval Staff, Rear Admiral Loumer Bernabe.

“This is a very important and timely activity as it shall boost our readiness to work seamlessly with our counterparts, particularly in countering security threats,” Navy Flag Officer-in-Command Vice Admiral Robert Empedrad said in a statement delivered by Bernabe.

Navies from the ASEAN states – Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines – and the US will hold maritime drills from September 2 to 6 in the waters of eastern Thailand to "promote maritime security and safety, freedom of navigation and overflight, and unimpeded commerce in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law," the Philippine Navy said.

The ASEAN-United States Maritime Exercises (AUMX) will be hosted by the US Navy and the Royal Thai Navy.

In recent years, the US has increasingly engaged with its allies in the Asia Pacific region to push back against China's attempts to dominate the region.

Earlier this month, the American Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan made a friendly port call in Manila, a move perceived as a message of deterrence against China’s expansionism.

Washington has repeatedly called out Beijing for militarizing the South China Sea, disregarding international maritime law, and bullying smaller countries to gain control of the strategic sea lane.

The Philippines faces the challenge of China’s encroachment of its exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea, or the West Philippine Sea, where Chinese vessels have been swarming Philippine-held islands and outposts.

A series of intrusions by Chinese warships in the Sibutu and Balabac straits have posed a security challenge to Philippines and highlighted its Navy’s incapacity to match China’s naval might.

The government recently said that it would prioritize modernizing the Philippine Navy, with the planned acquisition of new warships and submarines in the next few years.

The BRP Ramon Alcaraz, acquired from the US Coast Guard in 2013, is among the newer vessels in the Navy’s fleet.

As recent as 5 years ago, the Philippine Navy did not get invitations to international drills, Bernabe said, and the fact that it now regularly participates in joint exercises abroad is a sign of improvement.

“When you’re invited by navies around the world, it only shows that you do have the credibility. Before, they did not invite the Philippine Navy to participate because our vessels couldn’t reach their area because of distance. But now, the Philippine Navy is very visible in international occasions and exercises like these,” Bernabe told reporters after the ceremony. –

JC Gotinga

JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.