PHL, US kick off military drills


The Philippines and the United States formally opened the largest iteration in the history of Balikatan, the biggest annual military exercise involving troops from both countries, at Camp Aquinaldo in Quezon City.

The exercise was opened on Tuesday by the Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Gen. Andres Centino. Defense and foreign affairs officials also met for the 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue in Washington D.C.

“For the Armed Forces of the Philippines, in particular, this year’s Balikatan Exercise is most timely as we fast-track the enhancement of our capabilities for maritime security and domain awareness, as well as our employment concept of newly acquired equipment and weapon systems under our modernization program and application of newly developed doctrines – with the end-in-view of projecting a credible defense posture,” Centino said.

The ceremony was also attended by Heather Variava, US Chargé d’affaires who represented Ambassador Marykay Loss Carlson; Major General Eric Austin, US exercise director representative; and Major General Marvin Licudine, Philippine exercise director.

The Balikatan is being joined by more than 17, 500 Filipino and American troops. Japan and Australia are also participating along with 12 other countries as observers.

Military public affairs office chief Col. Jorry Baclor said the 38th iteration of the bilateral exercise highlights four major events—the command post exercise, cyber defense exercise, field training exercise and humanitarian civic assistance.

Weeks before the exercise, the military has said that this year’s phase would be bigger and different as US armaments will be in full use, including the Patriot and Avenger missiles and HIMARS.

On Thursday, US and Filipino troops will also conduct a live firing of the US anti-tank weapon Javelin, still as part of the recently concluded phase one of the US-PHL Salaknib exercise, which involved the Philippine Army and the US Army in the Indo-Pacific, according to Army spokesman Col. Xerxes Trinidad.

On the eve of Balikatan’s opening, Filipino and American soldiers trained together in “bunker and room-clearing” operations as part of the opening salvo at Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija.

“This year’s Balikatan will be the biggest ever, an indication of the growth of our alliance and how it continues to evolve to meet our shared goals,” Variava said.

Baclor said the participating forces will enhance their joint and combined capabilities in maritime security, amphibious operations, live-fire exercise, urban operations, aviation operations, counter-terrorism, and humanitarian assistance and disaster response.

The Philippines emphasized the importance of the Balikatan to both forces by building “interoperability, enhances capabilities, and demonstrates mutual defense of the Philippine sovereign territory,” Licudine said.

Austin declared: “Balikatan is an important opportunity to train shoulder-to-shoulder and build trust and confidence that enable our forces to respond to crises and contingencies as a team.”

In Washington D.C., Department of National Defense Officer in Charge Carlito Galvez Jr. and Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo held the 2+2 meeting with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken.

The US State Department said Blinken and Austin would reaffirm during the meeting Washington’s ironclad commitment to its alliance with the Philippines, which has “contributed to peace, stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific.”

Image credits: AP/Aaron Favila , Nonoy Lacza