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US, Philippines begin joint exercises

SUBIC BAY, Philippines — Marines from the Philippines and the United States on Monday began 10 days of joint exercises focused on disaster relief, humanitarian assistance, and maritime security.

The exercises, in their 29th year, come amid increased tensions in the South China Sea, with the Philippines and China involved in a territorial dispute over islands lying near rich energy deposits.

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Some 2,600 US Marines and 1,200 of their Filipino counterparts will train around the northern island of Luzon.

“Today, we stand side by side as we face common threats,’’ said Brigadier General Craig Q. Timberlake of the US Marines at the opening ceremony, held on the US amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard in Subic Bay, a former US naval base in the Philippines that is now a commercial port.

On the assault ship’s deck, round-attack Harrier jets were lined up near CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters. At the pier next to the ship was the Olympia, a nuclear-powered fast-attack submarine.

Brigadier General Remigio C. Valdez, the deputy commander of the Philippine armed forces, stressed that the training was not related to the territorial dispute but rather an ‘‘opportunity for an exchange of professional expertise.’’

But the Philippine fleet, whose largest vessel is a former US Coast Guard cutter, will have no ships participating in the exercises.

‘‘It’s not about the hardware,’’ said Colonel John E. Merna, commanding officer of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit. ‘‘We have a lot to learn from the Philippines. They are tremendous jungle fighters.’’

Marines will conduct live fire exercises, a simulated helicopter raid, a demonstration of US aircraft capabilities, disaster preparedness drills, and public service activities.

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