KALAYAAN, PHILIPPINES - A U.S. fleet has begun the sea phase of a joint maritime training exercise near the contested waters of the Spratly Islands, along with naval assets from the Philippines and Japan.
The U.S Coast Guard cutter Stratton sailed out the harbor of Puerto Princesa, Palawan, on Thursday, along with four U.S. Navy ships.
Speaking from Puerto Princesa earlier this week, Navy Capt. Antoinette McCann told VOA that the Coast Guard has an important role in providing for the security and prosperity of the region.
"The United States Navy and the United States Coast Guard have a very strong relationship. We both work in the maritime domain, and by eliminating the gaps and seams between our two organizations, we have enhanced our mutual ability to address threats in the maritime domain," she said.
"We encourage the same thing with the Philippines and the Japanese as they work their navies and coast guards to eliminate those gaps and seams."
The Coast Guard has maintained a regular rotation in the Western Pacific since 2018, with the Stratton replacing the USCGC Bertholf in June.
The exercise was welcomed by Eugenio Bito-Onon, Jr., a former mayor and currently a council member in the city of Kalayaan. The city has jurisdiction over the Philippine-controlled islands in the Spratly Islands, which are also claimed by an increasingly aggressive China.
Bito-Onon argued in an interview that the Philippines' own Coast Guard should play a bigger role in protecting the people and the territory of Kalayaan.
"I like that idea, but right now, it is really the military [that] has the very overarching role in the administration in the islands of Kalayaan. The Coast Guard still does not have enough assets," he said.