Rep. Jose Chavez Alvarez of the 2nd District of Palawan has assured China that this year’s Balikatan Exercises, which will be partially performed in the province, pose no cause for alarm.

In an interview with CNN Philippines’ The Final Word with Rico Hizon, Alvarez said Tuesday that he got a chance to talk to some “friends” in the Chinese Embassy in Manila about the staging of military drills between Filipino and American forces near the disputed seas and advised them not to worry.

According to the ex-governor, China is worried that the United States would use this chance to stockpile heavy military equipment in Palawan, increasing its own combat capabilities at their expense.

Around 17,500 Philippines and US troops will participate in four key activities during the 18-day shoulder-to-shoulder exercise: Command Post Exercise, Cyber Defense Exercise, Field Training Exercise, and Humanitarian Civic Assistance.

“I had a chance to speak to our Chinese Embassy friends, [I told them] not to be so alarmist about it because for me, the Balikatan that happened last year, there were no large armaments that were left behind. It’s just infantry and small arms fire—maybe in the north [of the Philippines] there is, but in Palawan, I have not seen large armaments,” he said.

“This was the concern of our friends—it will attract retaliation, of course, from our Chinese friends. But I don’t believe it is so dangerous at the moment because there are no large arms being stored in Palawan. None at all,” he said.

Hizon inquired with Alvarez about his stance on Balabac’s inclusion as one of four Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) sites, and whether he considers it a benefit or a drawback.

In response, Alvarez stated that the Balikatan Exercises would only be detrimental if the US were to abandon weaponry that would cause concern for China. However, if this scenario does not transpire, he does not perceive the exercises as a threat.

He emphasized that the likelihood of risk would only arise if both nations mutually decide to use Balabac as a springboard for significant weaponry to target neighboring countries.

“Well, yes, liability in sense if the Americans, the visiting forces, they will leave armaments that are feared by our neighbors, but if they are not leaving any armaments there, they are just visiting, training the troops, exercise at sea, and survival and disaster response, I don’t think there is any threat there,” he said.

“Hindi po masyadong nakakaalarma sa Palawan. I don’t know in the north, in Zambales, but in the south, I guarantee [there is nothing] to be alarmed about.

Currently, the Philippine Air Force (PAF) is constructing a base in Brgy. Catagupan, Balabac, which spans across 300 hectares of land allocated by the provincial government under an agreement established in 2018.

Alvarez specified that this base is principally intended to entice tourists from Hainan, a sister province of Palawan located in China, and not as a staging site for any offensive attacks.

“If they will use the military part of the runway to stage a military confrontation with other countries, that I do not agree,” he said, echoing President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s pronouncement that the additional sites under EDCA will not be used for offensive actions.