PH, US commit to ‘open, free Indo-Pacific’ at end of Balikatan
MANILA, Philippines—The Philippines and United States ended their two-week military exercises on Friday (April 23), adjusting to limitations foisted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Balikatan showcases the strength and resolve of the Philippine-US Alliance,” said US embassy chargé d’affaires John Law at the closing ceremony of Balikatan exercises at Camp Aguinaldo on Friday.
The large-scale exercise called Balikatan, a Filipino phrase which means “shoulder-to-shoulder,” was toned down due to the pandemic. More than 200 soldiers participated from the US side while 415 joined from the Philippine side. The number of participants from both countries usually exceed 2,000.
The exercise was cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic.
Armed Forces of the Philippines chief Gen. Cirilito Sobejana said the drills “definitely brought us a step closer towards our goal of capacitating our forces, and as such, will consequently contribute to the peace and stability of the Indo-Pacific Region.”
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the successful exercises highlighted strength in cooperation and the need to share burden with friends and allies.
“Our success brings forth two important messages to the world: first, nations become stronger if we work together and, second, there is no threat too daunting if the burden is shared and shouldered together,” he said.
This year’s exercise focused on enhancing joint humanitarian aid and relief operation capabilities, rapid response operations during pandemic, counter-terrorism, and other expert exchanges on various topics. The activities were conducted across Luzon.
The Balikatan was carried out amid a pandemic and China’s continued encroachment in the West Philippine Sea but no US or Philippine official made any direct reference to China.
“These exercises demonstrate and improve our ability to jointly respond to crises,” said Law.
“But training is never over. We will continue to advance our military-to-military partnership in pursuit of our shared commitment to mutual defense in a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Law said.
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