Philippines, US begin smaller-scale joint military exercises

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

This year's Balikatan Exercise features drills in humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and counterterrorism, an apparent scale down of the yearly military engagement between the two countries.

Philippine "Balikatan" spokesperson Major Frank Sayson said the Cebu-based Central Command (CentCom) and the Northern Luzon Command (NolCom) will participate in the exercises.

Far fewer soldiers on both sides are participating in the joint exercises compared to a year ago when about 11,500 soldiers took part in the joint venture.

During a trip to Beijing past year, Duterte, a self-described socialist, announced that he was in the "ideological flow" of China's communist rulers.

In a joint press conference held on Monday (May 8) at Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City, shortly after the opening ceremonies of the Balikatan held at the AFP Commissioned Officers Club (AFP), Lt. Gen. Oscar Lactao and Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson, Balikatan exercise director of the Philippines and the United States, respectively, said that despite the scaling down of the exercises, the scenarios are equally important to them.

More news: Navy identifies SEAL killed in raid in Somalia

The scaled-back exercises come after Duterte changed the Philippines' foreign policy, distancing the country from Washington and aligning itself more with China with whom it has signed several cooperation agreements and has proposed strengthening defence ties.

Sayson told Kyodo News that 10-day exercises are focused on humanitarian and disaster response operations, adding that the effects of a category 5 typhoon hitting the country will be simulated.

During previous years, both armies practiced war situations with response exercises in the face of an invasion.

The Balikatan (Shoulder to Shoulder in English) exercises started in 2002, with the objective of launching a global campaign against terrorism after the infamous September 11, 2001 terror attack on New York's twin towers.

Nicholson, in the same press briefing, said that anytime they get a chance to work with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is a privilege for them.

The US co-director of this year's drills, General Lawrence Nicholson, said the US military hoped that the exercises would grow again in future editions.

  • Adam Floyd