By Wilnard Bacelonia

EXERCISE.  Participating soldiers alight the US Marines Super Stallion helicopter during the air assault operations.  This was part of the “Balikatan” Exercise held at the Paredes Air Station, Barangay 32 Sapat, Pasuquin, Ilocos Norte on April 23, 2023. (PNA file photo courtesy of PA)

MANILA – Senators explained on Wednesday that the Balikatan exercises between the Philippines and the US aim to enhance interoperability and strengthen partnerships and not to challenge the military capabilities of other nations.

Senator Jinggoy Estrada, chair of the Senate Committee on National Defense, said while some Balikatan exercises were conducted in the disputed areas, these were not meant to challenge other nations’ actions, including China’s continued bullying.

“These exercises are not designed for combat operations against other nations. Responding to or utilizing it to impede China’s coercive actions against Philippine vessels is outside the scope of these joint military drills,” Estrada explained, adding that the country should continue lawful activities within its jurisdiction while promoting peace and stability in the region.

Senator Francis Tolentino echoed Estrada’s statement that the exercises’ purpose is not to stop China’s harassment.

“We should trust the effectiveness of our alliances not the unruly behavior of those who intend to distract us,” Tolentino said.

China’s aggression toward civilian vessels, he said, highlights the need to uphold international law.

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva asserted that China’s bullying tactics and scare propaganda would not affect the Philippines’ sovereign rights over its exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

“Whatever they do, it will never take away our sovereign rights over the WPS, especially the Scarborough Shoal, which is clearly within our exclusive economic zone,” he said in a statement.(PNA)