Philippines, US begin smaller-scale joint military exercises

Laura Christensen
May 10, 2017

From the previous war games geared towards maritime security and territorial defense, this year's Balikatan shifts to disaster preparedness and fighting terrorism.

After this year's launch, the joint military exercise will move to the country's different naval stations in Luzon and the Visayas, including those in Panay, Leyte, Palawan and Samar.

Officials say 5,400 personnel — 2,600 Americans and 2,800 Filipinos — will be involved, or about half of 11,000 troops who took part past year.

Lactao said President Duterte wanted to focus on disaster response instead of territorial defense which was the highlight of last year's activities amid escalating sea disputes with China.

Exercise spokesman Maj. Celeste Frank Sayson said there are around 6,000 participating troops, consisting of some 2,800 Philippine troops and 2,600 United States of America troops, in this year's "Balikatan" (shoulder-to-shoulder) drills.

US troops march during the opening of the annual Philippines-US military exercises at Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City, Manila, the Philippines, May 8, 2017.

He said the bills, while widely publicized, would still have to go through the legislative process in the US Senate that could take a long while.

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Nicholson said they were not disappointed the exercise would only cover counterterrorism and humanitarian response under its scaled-down activities, noting the scope of the bilateral exercise changes every year.

The Philippines and the United States launched annual military exercises on Monday but the longtime allies scaled them down in line with President Rodrigo Duterte's pivot to China and Russian Federation.

His Filipino counterpart, Lt. Gen. Oscar Lactao, said the exercise priority was chosen based on the guidance from Duterte.

"Balikatan" 2017 is noted for having mostly high-impact humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) drills which include urban search-and-rescue (including collapsed structure rescue in event of earthquakes) and landing of relief units and goods should in a typhoon-isolated area.

Australia is the only other country, aside from U.S., that has a visiting forces agreement with the Philippines.

About 2,600 Pentagon soldiers and 2,800 Filipinos, as well as troops from Australia and Japan, are involved on Balikatan or Shoulder-to-Shoulder exercises, spokesman Celeste Frank Sayson said.

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