Balikatan to highlight civic action–Coloma
MANILA, Philippines–Malacañang is highlighting the civilian aspect of this year’s war games with the United States amid China’s aggressive expansion in territorial waters disputed by the Philippines and other countries in Asia.
Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said Sunday that the 31st edition of the Balikatan exercises would not only focus on military exercises but also on disaster preparedness and public services.
In an interview with dzRB radio, Coloma said the 10-day event starting on Monday would also involve the construction of school buildings and service provision to towns and provinces that would host the visiting US troops.
A total of 6,656 American servicemen and 5,023 Filipino soldiers will participate in the exercises.
“They will conduct a few training courses for first responders and seminars for public services such as community health nursing, common diseases during calamities and accidents, healthy lifestyle tips to address public health concerns,” Coloma said.
He said that under the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief program, the participants would conduct structural assessment of seaports and airports in Capiz, Aklan and Iloilo provinces that were damaged by Supertyphoon “Yolanda” (international name: Haiyan) in 2013.
“Our goal is to heighten the preparedness of the two countries to ensure full readiness to respond to whatever challenges we face,” he said.
Coloma was referring to recent reports showing China’s continuous reclamation activities in disputed sea borders that both the United States and the Philippines had publicly criticized.
“This year is timely,” said Lt. Col. Marlowe Patria, a Balikatan spokesman. “Now we have more calamities in a year, so we have to be prepared for this. At least we have the US and other supporting nations, and through this exercise we can improve teamwork and optimize the advantage of each other’s presence.”
Earlier, the United States said it would send 76 aircraft and three ships, while the Philippines would deploy 15 planes and one vessel.
The opening ceremony of Balikatan 2015 will be held at Camp Aguinaldo and will close on April 30 at Clark Air Base.
Patria said the number of participants would depend on the program.
“We are preparing for many things, because we included the communities and their capability to assist evacuees. Definitely we have some increases of personnel involved in one activity, and there are many activities, that’s why it reached that figure,” the military official said.
Activities are divided into three categories, namely the command post exercise, field training exercise and humanitarian civic assistance.
This year’s Balikatan is slated to have 15 humanitarian assistance and disaster response activities. This will include training in disaster response and search and rescue, as well as community development projects.
Command post exercises will involve scenarios on marine security and combined arms live fire exercises.
The field training exercises will be held in Crow Valley in Tarlac province; Basa Air Base and Clark Air Base, both in Pampanga province; Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija province, Marine Base Gregorio Lim and Naval Base Heracleo Alano, both in Cavite province; and Naval Station Leovigildo Gantiouqui in Zambales province.
The humanitarian civic assistance events will be held in parts of Puerto Princesa City in Palawan province and on Panay Island.
Patria maintained that the bilateral exercises had nothing to do with the ongoing dispute in the West Philippine Sea with China and other claimant countries.
“There are no specific threats factored in, what we want to achieve is to enhance our capability to defend ourselves,” the military official added.
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