PH-US Balikatan kicks off, junks invasion scenario
The Philippines and United States will kick off its biggest Balikatan exercises under President Rodrigo Duterte in Camp Aguinaldo Monday morning.
Unlike in previous years where drills near the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) highlighted live fire drills based on invasion scenarios, this year’s bilateral exercises will focus on disaster response and counterterrorism.
The refocus is in line with Duterte’s rebalance of the country’s foreign policy. He wants to become less dependent on long-time ally the United States as he develops warmer ties with China and Russia.
Earlier, Duterte wanted the joint drills scrapped but softened his stance.
Only about 5,000 Filipino and American troops will participate in this year’s exercises that will run from May 8 to 19 in parts of Luzon and the Visayas. Last year, 11,000 troops took part.
Major Frank Celeste Sayson, Balikatan spokesperson, said this year’s scenario would focus on the response to a massive storm from the Pacific that will hit the eastern part of the Visayas and Luzon, leaving behind a swath of destruction.
“We are going to launch our bilateral service interoperability events based on that single scenario,” he said.
Expected to attend the opening event at 9 a.m. are Acting Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo, US ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Armed Forces chief of staff General Eduardo Año. CBB
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