AFP chief calls US PH’s big brother, friend and ally
CLARK AIR BASE, Philippines — The United States, a long time ally, is a “big brother” to the Philippines, Armed Forces of the Philippines chief General Gregorio Catapang Jr. said on Friday.
Other than battling insurgents, the Philippines and the world are facing other challenges in the modern times. These include climate change, transnational crime, terrorism and other things, the AFP chief said.
“There’s no other country that can help us in addressing these global concerns. No other country we can think about but the United States,” Catapang said in his speech during the closing ceremonies of the Balikatan 2015 exercises held here.
This year’s Balikatan has the biggest number of troops in 15 years, with about 11,000 combined US and Philippine troops — with nearly 7,000 US troops. This is part of the US’ commitment to the Philippines as it rebalances to Asia amid China’s expansion in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
The exercises came amid China’s aggression in the disputed seas, a major trade route. The US has an abiding interest on the “freedom of navigation” in the West Philippine Sea.
In an interview later with reporters, Catapang mentioned that the US spent about $15 million to move in the troops participating in the exercises.
“We have to thank our American counterparts for doing a great job. They brought along so many soldiers. In fact, I heard from Gen. (John) Toolan that they spent $15 million dollars to move the troops so that’s a lot of expenses on their part. We are really indebted to this exercise,” he said.
The 10-day exercises ended on Thursday afternoon in a ceremony at Clark Air Base. Earlier in the day, US and Philippine Marine troops held live-fire exercises in Crow Valley in Tarlac.
The activity was a “capability demonstration” that simulated a final attack in an area occupied by enemy forces, which utilized both ground and air assets.
One of the highlights of the Balikatan exercises was the amphibious assault, Western Command chief and Balikatan exercise director for the Philippines, Vice Admiral Alexander Lopez, said.
The mock assault by US and Philippine forces was held in a Zambales naval base facing the West Philippine Sea, where the Philippines was invaded by foreigners in the supposed scenario.
“We witnessed not only the immense military capability of 21 amphibious assault vehicles but also the great potentials of these military assets of delivering much needed help for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations coming from the sea,” he said.
The war games involved command post exercises, field training exercises and civic assistance activities.
“In an overall picture, we have attained an enhanced capacity, capability and interoperability in a joint and combined environment especially for the AFP,” Lopez said.
US: ‘We are with you’
The US, meanwhile, reiterated its partnership with the Philippines at the closing ceremonies, just like what US President Barack Obama said in his visit here last year.
“Balikatan is not just an annual exercise between our countries. It is the embodiment of our Treaty and of our alliance. Balikatan is the manifestation of the commitment of the United States of America to you, our friend and ally, the Republic of the Philippines,” Doni Scandola, deputy chief of mission for the US Embassy and the guest of honor at the ceremonies said in her speech.
“We are standing with you, side by side, not just for an annual exercise, but for whenever our partnership is truly needed,” she added. IDL
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