Tuesday 9 May 2017

With Australia & Japan, US and Philippines open "watered down" Balikatan Military exercises

Territorial Defense? None. Amphibious assault? None. Maritime Security? None.  The usual focus of the annual Balikatan military exercises which dealt on the above named themes are out for this year.
Filipino and US soldiers stand in front of a US military M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System(HIMARS) launcher a Long-Range Missile System, during the live fire exercise of Balikatan 2016)(inquirer.net)
The first Balikatan exercises in the Duterte administration will be on a “smaller scale” as compared to previous military exercises. The exercises isset to run from May 8-19.

Balikatan ( shoulder-to-shoulder) is the annual bilateral exercise between the United States military forces and the Philippines that focuses on interoperability, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief capabilities,Philippine military capability development, and the latters military modernization.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said that the 2017 military exercise is “different” but is actually “more special” because it  focus on humanitarian assistance, disaster response (HADR) and counterterrorism. 

“I think we have to devote more resources and time to this kind of activity and also to counterterrorism,” he said during the opening ceremony of the Balikatan exercises in Camp Aguinaldo yesterday.

US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim , described the 33rd-Philippine-US Balikatan exercise, as a proof of the strong military partnership and friendship between the two nations.

“But from my perspective, it’s more than that. Balikatan has a very special meaning for the embodiment of our robust bilateral relationship and reflects not only our strong military partnership but also the deep friendship between our two peoples,” Kim added. 

This year’s version is considered small compared last year, where 10,000 soldiers participated down to 5,400 troops this year, but will include 80 troops from Australia, 20 from Japan and observers from the Southeast Asian countries.

Fort Magsaysay, Nueva Ecija; Casiguran, Aurora; Upi, Isabela; Guiuan, Eastern Samar; and Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City were designated sited for this year’s Balikatan exercises

“Let us [keep] in mind that we are doing this exercise as a tool for peace-building … May the United States and Philippines continue to have stronger ties and bilateral relationship. Allow me to express my appreciation to the US troops who are here. We are thankful for your demonstration of friendship and goodwill,” Lorenzana said.

“The political authorities provide us guidance. The priority of [President Duterte] is HADR and counterterrorism so that’s the thing we are focusing [on],” said Lt. Gen. Oscar Lactao, codirector of the exercise for the Philippines.

Previous versions of the Balikatan exercises between the two allies were focused bilateral military engagements that involved live fire exercises and scenarios of invasion which has its goal of  enhancing the interoperability of Philippine and American forces. Balikatan has been considered the cornerstone of PH-US military relation since the US bases were shut down.
The U.S.-Philippines defense agreements were among the United States' first major security treaties in the Asia-Pacific and served as the cornerstone of U.S. policy to maintain regional peace and security after WWII.(cfr.org)
The Philippines under the Duterte administration has forged its independent foreign policy, has extended warmer and  friendlier ties with non-traditional partners like China and Russia.

The Philippines and the United States have been treaty allies and longstanding defense cooperation partners, dating back to their Mutual Defense Treaty of 1951.
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