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‘No brainer’: COVID-19 pandemic prompts cancellation of PH-US Balikatan drills

/ 12:50 PM March 27, 2020

MANILA, Philippines—The COVID-19 pandemic left the Philippine and US armed forces with no choice but cancel the Balikatan exercises, set in May and seen as a swan song for the demise of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), according to Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.

“It’s a no-brainer,” Lorenzana told INQUIRER.net.

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“No more Balikatan because we are not allowing outsiders to come here,” he said, referring to American and other foreign troops that are to take part in what has been touted as the biggest Balikatan ever.

Joint drills set May 4 to 15 were supposed to be one of the largest to be carried out by the Philippine and US militaries in recent years and involving 11,000 Filipino and American soldiers with a small contingent from Australia.

American soldiers were supposed to start arriving in the Philippines in April ahead of the main US contingent arriving in May.

The exercises had been much anticipated as it was supposed to be the last large-scale drills of the two countries before the VFA lapses in August.

The US Indo Pacific Command, in a separate statement on Friday (March 27), said the exercises were cancelled “due to concerns for the health and safety of the participating exercise forces and local populations near the planned exercise areas.”

“In light of the extraordinary circumstances surrounding COVID-19 pandemic and the best interest of the health and safety of both countries’ forces, it is prudent to cancel Balikatan 2020,” said Adm. Philip Davidson, head of the Indo-Pacific Command.

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“We remain deeply committed to our long-standing alliance and friendship,” he said.

The Philippine government, upon orders by President Rodrigo Duterte, officially sent notice to terminate the VFA to the US government last Feb. 11. Duterte had been ranting against the United States since he entered the presidential race in 2016 and right after assuming office. The termination would take effect in 180 days or six months.

Duterte went ahead with his decision and disregarded the advice of his foreign and security officials to review the agreement instead of scrapping it.

Edited by TSB

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