US, Philippines Engage in Joint Military Exercises

Posted 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 coming to power in June past year, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, angered by US criticism of his bloody anti-drugs campaign, announced that the 2017 exercises would be the last.

Duterte responded to criticism from then-US president Barack Obama by repeatedly using personal slurs against him.

Officials say 5,400 personnel, including 2,600 Americans and 2,800 Filipinos, are participating in the exercises this year.

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

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Soldiers from Australia and Japan also are participating in the exercises, Sayson said.

Opening rites for the 12-day "Balikatan", or "Shoulder-to-Shoulder", exercises were led by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and U.S. Ambassador Sung Kim at the Philippine military's headquarters in metropolitan Manila.

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

The scaled-back exercises come after President Rodrigo Duterte changed the Philippines' foreign policy, distancing the country from Washington and aligning itself more with China.

This year's Balikatan exercises will focus on humanitarian assistance and disaster response and fighting terrorism.

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Nicholson said the United States considers every opportunity to work with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) as a privilege. "Of course, we all hope it gets bigger", he said.

"I am serving notice now to the Americans, this will be the last military exercise", the former Davao City mayor said during a trip to Vietnam.

"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.

One of the directors of this year's exercise, Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson, spoke positively of the curtailed drill saying, "Moving a force in a country like the Philippines ... those are skills that are pertinent to any type of military operation ..."

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