(L-R) Capt. Kunio Ogawa, deputy director for Plans & Programs Division, MSO of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF); Capt. Francisco Tagamolila Jr., deputy commander for Fleet Operations of the Naval Forces West; Maj. General Dante Hidalgo, vice commander of the Philippine Navy; Commodore Sean Anthony Villa, commander Naval Forces West; and Capt. Antoinette McCann, deputy, Commodore CDS7 during the kick-off ceremony of the MTA Sama-Sama 2019 on October 14, 2019.

The navies of the U.S., Japan, and the Philippines kicked off here Monday the third iteration of the Maritime Training Activity (MTA) Sama-Sama, a weeklong maritime exercise designed to promote regional security cooperation, maintain and strengthen maritime partnerships, and enhance maritime interoperability.

“Sama-Sama”, the Filipino word for “joint or together”, will also train the sailors of the three nations on other maritime engagements such humanitarian assistance and disaster relief preparedness, as well as information sharing for long-term regional cooperation.

This year’s iteration of the MTA Sama-Sama is a first for the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF), said Capt. Kunio Ogawa, deputy director for the Plans and Programs Division of the Maritime Security Operations (MSO).

USS Montgomery (LCS-8), the Independence-class littoral combat ship of the United States Navy, is participating in the 3rd iteration of MTA Sama-Sama in Palawan. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Embassy)

Philippine Navy (PN) vice commander Maj. Gen. Dante Hidalgo, together with Capt. Francisco Tagamolila Jr., deputy commander for Fleet Operations of the Naval Forces West (NAVFORWEST), Capt. Antoinette McCann, deputy, Commodore CDS7, Capt. Ogawa, and NAVFORWEST commander Commodore Sean Anthony Villa, declared the MTA Sama Sama open.

Hidalgo, who represented flag-officer-in-command (FOIC) Vice Admiral Robert Empedrad of the PN, said the MTA Sama-Sama exercise has been instrumental in enhancing and further confirming the commitment of the participating navies as steadfast partners in upgrading interoperability to respond to any maritime security or regional crises that may happen.

Hidalgo said the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) remains devoted to its role of protecting and defending the country and its people, and as such, it is critical for it to be not only responsive but is adaptive to the requirements of the country’s maritime territory.

“The navy, in particular, has gained headways in terms of our modernization programs which are focused on developing a more credible defense posture in safeguarding our maritime nation while performing non-traditional roles. It is, therefore, important that our fleet marine team maintains high operational readiness, as well as trained and equipped to perform its multi-faceted roles,” he said.

He said the conduct of the exercises with the Philippines’ counterparts is necessary to enhance capabilities and efficiencies to train the sailors in the frontlines.

The MTA Sama Sama, Hidalgo added, is one of the very important training exercises there is as it provides an avenue for the participants to develop and enhance joint interoperability to respond to any regional crisis, promotes situational awareness, and information sharing among U.S. and Philippine navies and other allies like Japan.

“We hope to see that all participants shall be ready and able to apply all learnings through this activity by enhancing cooperation and camaraderie,” he added.

McCann, on the other hand, said they are expecting cross-training and interaction at the tactical level with the other participants in the joint exercise.

“We are expecting to show and to adopt something unique from each other. I’m sure we will learn new things from the naval forces of the two countries that can actually help us to improve our skills,” she said.

Ogawa also said that the Japanese Navy is looking forward to doing exercises on human assistance and disaster preparedness through effective communication.

“Communication is very important, we believe that through this activity together, we will be able to help each other to hone our skills credibly in terms of humanitarian assistance posturing,” Ogawa said.