By Priam Nepomuceno

MARITIME PATROL. Philippine Navy ships BRP Gregorio Del Pilar (PS-15), BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PS-16) and BRP Davao Del Sur (LD-602) in line formation during the second iteration of the AFP-USINDOPACOM maritime cooperative activity in West Philippine Sea on Wednesday (Jan. 3, 2024). The AFP on Thursday (Jan. 4) said the Philippine naval ships were not surrounded but were merely shadowed by Chinese vessels during the activity. (Photo courtesy of AFP Western Command)

MANILA – The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Thursday clarified that Filipino naval vessels that joined the second “maritime cooperative activity” (MCA) with the United States were not surrounded by Chinese vessels but were merely shadowed during the exercise.

“I was surprised by one report saying that our ships were surrounded, how can they surround our ships when there are only two Chinese vessels? It is basically shadowing. We have more ships that time,” AFP spokesperson Col. Xerxes Trinidad said in mixed Filipino and English in an interview.

Philippine vessels that participated in the joint maritime patrol with US Indo Pacific Command from Jan. 3 to 4 consist of the offshore patrol vessels BRP Gregorio Del Pilar (PS-15), BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PS-16), and the landing dock, BRP Davao Del Sur (LD-602).

A search-and-rescue and anti-submarine helicopter from the Philippines was also earmarked for the MCA.

At the time of the shadowing, Trinidad said one of the guided missile destroyers of the US carrier battle group was present.

He added that the Chinese ships were still shadowing the Philippine vessels as of this time.

“As long as they do not interfere or do dangerous maneuvers against our vessels, we will be proceeding as planned and I think we are doing well,” Trinidad said.

He added that there were no untoward incidents logged during the ongoing maritime activity.

MCA successfully completed

As this developed, the AFP on Thursday night announced that the MCA with the United States Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM) ended successfully.

“The second and final day of the joint maritime exercise was marked by the performance of cross-deck maneuvers or personnel transfers, demonstrating the competencies and effectiveness of both naval forces. It also emphasized the ability of the AFP and USINDOPACOM to work seamlessly together, highlighting their expertise and readiness. The exercise also conducted a thorough communications check before concluding the activity,” Trinidad said.

The offshore patrol vessels BRP Gregorio Del Pilar, BRP Ramon Alcaraz, and AW-109 naval helicopter completed the last day of the MCA.

The USINDOPACOM deployed its Carrier Strike Group-1, led by the Nimitz- class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70).

“The maritime cooperative activity included exercises that allowed for the exchange of best practices. This improved the proficiency of both armed forces in responding to potential threats in the maritime domain,” AFP chief Gen. Romeo S. Brawner Jr. said.

“The MCA reaffirms the strong bond and enduring partnership between the AFP and the USINDOPACOM. This collaborative effort not only enhances the capabilities of both forces but also contributes to the overall security and stability of the region.”

The Philippines’ first MCA with the US took place last Nov. 21 to 23. (PNA)