(Photo courtesy of MBLT-4 via Western Command Armed Forces of the Philippines Facebook page)

Personnel of the Marine Battalion Landing Team 4 (MBLT-4) and the United States Marine Corps are conducting a bilateral and near-simultaneous amphibious operation exercise dubbed MAREX22 in Palawan, with the aim of developing their capabilities in amphibious operations in support of counter-terrorism and internal security operations.

The exercise, which is being held annually, started last January 27 and will last until February 2. It is an interoperability training that seeks to improve the humanitarian assistance and disaster response (HADR) execution of the local government units (LGUs) in the province.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, MAREX22 saw a few modifications, with a limited number of 340 personnel from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) along with 500 US forces members participating in the exercise, in adherence to health and safety protocols being implemented.

Photo of two V22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft flying in Barangay Samariñana in Brooke’s Point town. (Photo courtesy of Allen Joshua Rapues)

Meanwhile, 1Lt. Jaafar Omar, MBLT-4 Civil-Military Operations Officer, allayed fears of residents regarding the presence of US military aircraft flying over Palawan skies, saying they are part of the exercise.

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“Wala pong dapat ikabahala [ang publiko sa mga nakikita nilang helicopters] dahil exercise lang po ito,” Omar said.

Last Thursday, photos of two V22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft flying in Barangay Samariñana in Brooke’s Point town circulated on social media with residents asking what they were doing there.

A statement from Western Command (WESCOM) also said the exercise has nothing to do with issues surrounding the West Philippine Sea and “shows no offensive military operations concerning the area.”

“It is an exchange of knowledge and skills for smooth cooperation between two marine corps forces,” the statement said.

In a separate statement from the U.S. Embassy, it said that during the MAREX 22, the U.S. and the Philippines will conduct maritime operations training to boost their joint ability to enhance mutual defense capabilities and respond to natural disasters.

It also stressed that due to the pandemic, the forces will minimize contact throughout the exercise and implement protocols to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

“We appreciate this opportunity to strengthen our enduring alliance with the Philippines in the Indo-Pacific region through combined amphibious operations,” said Capt. Karry DeWayne Sanders, commodore of Amphibious Squadron One. “Our shared focus of regional security, stability, and prosperity in the Pacific will continue to enhance our partner nation’s capability as it has for the last seven decades.”

Photo of two V22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft flying in Barangay Samariñana in Brooke’s Point town. (Photo courtesy of Allen Joshua Rapues)

Among the events for this year’s MAREX, which will last until February 2, are amphibious assault coordination and execution, subject matter expert exchanges, and integrated maritime operations such as search and seizure operations and tactical maneuvering.

“Our goal is to successfully integrate our forces during planning and execution to conduct a full-scale, expeditionary amphibious operation, side-by-side with our Filipino partners. This exercise will further strengthen our commitment in the Indo-Pacific region, as well as be a memorable experience for our Marines and sailors,” said Col. James Lively, Commanding Officer, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

“We must continue to conduct relevant training that will improve our individual and collective capabilities,” said Maj. Gen. Ariel Caculitan, commandant of the Philippine Marine Corps. “MAREX is joined by our foreign counterpart and our major ally, the United States Marine Corps, that has long been training with us and sharing with us the duty to preserve regional peace and security.”

U.S. maritime assets participating in the exercise include the ships of the Essex (ESX) Amphibious Ready Group comprised of USS Essex (LHD 2), USS Portland (LPD 27), and USS Pearl Harbor (LSD 52) with the embarked forces of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) to include Battalion Landing Team 1/1, Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 165 (Reinforced), Marine Attack Squadron (VMA) 214, and Combat Logistics Battalion (CLB) 11. Together, these units form a robust team to work alongside their Philippine Navy and Marine Corps counterparts.

As the U.S. and Philippines celebrate 75 years of security cooperation, MAREX 22 represents a mutual commitment to enhance the security and stability of the region.

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is the chief of correspondents of Palawan News. She covers defense, politics, tourism, health, and sports stories. She loves to travel and explore different foods.