PH-US naval exercises in Mindanao end

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/10 July)—Filipino and American navy and coast guard forces ended Tuesday their joint naval exercises in Mindanao on a high note, with both camps vowing to continue collaboration in maritime defense and disaster response.

Commodore Philip Cacayan, Naval Forces Eastern Mindanao commander, officially closed the nine-day Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training 2012 (CARAT 2012) at around 11 am here.

CARAT 2012 was a huge success, US Navy Captain David Welch, commander of Task Group 73.1 and Destroyer Squadron 31, said for his part.

“Our navies and coast guards will be continuing to interact in the coming years and I believe that the interaction the personnel from both navies as well as coast guards and marine corps will be of great significance for future coordination and interactions,” Cacayan said in his speech.

“The development of maritime security capabilities and increasing interoperability among participants is achieved through the active participation of everyone in the conduct of the different activities of the CARAT exercise,” he added.

Welch noted the holding of the CARAT, now on its 18th edition between the US and the Philippines, reinvigorates the “strong relationship” between the two countries.

“The relationship between our two countries is not self-sustaining and it is not stationary. Today we continue to build on the rich history of great works by great men and women, some of whom paid the ultimate sacrifice,” he said.

Welch stressed that CARAT “sharpens the participating troops’ skills and developed their proficiencies and their ability to operate as a team.”

He described CARAT as an important part of the US-Philippine military to military relationship, having done it in the last 18 years.

He said that CARAT was an opportunity for both forces “to learn from each other and their respective countries and militaries.”

It was the first time to be held in Mindanao.

During the opening ceremonies last July 2, US Ambassador Harry K. Thomas Jr. expressed hopes to repeat the CARAT exercise  in the island, noting that such exercise is a “living proof that US and Philippine alliance is relevant and strong.”

“For the first time in memory, CARAT takes place in Mindanao, and I hope that this is the first of many,” the envoy said then.

It was also the first time that the Philippine Coast Guard took part in the CARAT, according to Cacayan.

“To train with our friends from America makes this exercise more significant because of the expertise that they bring,” he said.

Capt. Robert Empedrad, CARAT 2012 exercise director, noted the glaring discrepancy of the Philippine naval equipment with their foreign counterparts, but stressed that the naval exercise was still very successful.

“The sophistication and age gap between our ships and aircraft were never a hindrance in achieving the desired goals of the exercise that is to enhance the interoperability among the participating forces,” Empedrad, also the deputy commander of the Naval Forces Eastern Mindanao Command, said.

“These gaps were offset by the display of professionalism, discipline and expertise among participants from both sides,” he added.

Cacayan noted the Armed Forces of the Philippines is in the process of upgrading its capabilities.

“Your Philippine Navy is looking and moving forward towards a credible and strong navy that the whole Filipino people can be proud of,” he said. (Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews)