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Island 140km south of Taiwan eyed for US-Philippines military exercises

Philippines’ NOLCOM command lieutenant general visits Mavulis Island

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Troops in the U.S. and Philippines armed forces conduct the Balikatan exercises in 2022. (CNA photo)

Troops in the U.S. and Philippines armed forces conduct the Balikatan exercises in 2022. (CNA photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The Philippines’ army has inspected an island about 140 kilometers from Taiwan’s southernmost point and is reportedly considering the location for joint military exercises with the U.S.

The Inquirer reported on Tuesday (Jan. 30) that Lt. Gen. Fernyl Buca of the Philippines’ Northern Luzon Command (NOLCOM) inspected Mavulis Island and nearby the Basco township over the past weekend. He was reportedly joined by those responsible for planning the Balikatan exercises – the largest military drills held between the Philippines and the U.S.

When asked about why the Balikatan planners were present on the trip, Buca said, “It’s for advance planning for a possible proposed exercise area in future Balikatan (drills).” NOLCOM posted a separate statement and said, “A recent visit and inspection was conducted to the northernmost defense outpost in Mavulis and Basco, Batanes.

“The visit aimed to assess its capabilities and preparedness in protecting the nation's maritime borders and interests as the NOLCOM transitioned into territorial defense operations,” the post read.

The U.S. increased the number of troops, military agreements, and exercises in the Philippines in 2023, and access to the country is seen as crucial for a potential U.S. response to any military confrontation in the Taiwan Strait. However, the county’s president Bongbong Marcos has said his country will not become a staging post for U.S. military action in this area.

The annual Balikatan military exercises were last staged in April and were described as the largest in decades. China said Manila was “stoking the fire” during the exercises, which included more than 16,000 U.S. and Philippine troops.