Exercise directors expect a very productive 33rd Balikatan Exercises

Miranda GreerMay 10, 2017

"We will be having small arms military-to-military activities, some joint special operations activities which is really aligned to counter-terrorism", said Balikatan spokesperson for Philippines Major Frank Sayson.

The changes were instructed by President Rodrigo Duterte who has said he wants to chart a foreign policy less oriented toward Washington while expanding security ties with China and Russian Federation.

This edition does not even include exercises near the Spratly archipelago in the South China Sea where Manila and Beijing are embroiled in territorial disputes over the sovereignty issue.

Balikatan, which means "shoulder-to-shoulder" in Filipino, is an annual military exercise between the United States and Philippines military forces.

The 11-day joint training exercise between Filipino and American troops was opened at Camp Aguinaldo by exercise directors Lt. Gen. Oscar Lactao and Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson, with the latter saying they were expecting a "great" exercise with their counterparts.

The drills are being held despite Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte's persistent claims that he wants to end the joint exercises for more independence from its decades-long ally.

"So whether it's during other exercises, whether it's Balikatan, whether it's smaller individual efforts, when we get a chance to train with the AFP that's great for us'" Nicholson said. "That fits well whether it is a conventional force operation or humanitarian disaster relief", according to Stars and Stripes.

US personnel involved in Balikatan aren't disappointed about the changes, he said.

Soldiers from Japan and Australia are also taking part in the exercise, he said.

Lactao said under the Balikatan Exercises agreement, there will be a command post exercise at Camp Aguinaldo, humanitarian assistance trainings in Visayas, and bilateral events all over the country.

Nicholson said the USA considers every opportunity to work with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) as a privilege.

"I'm confident there will be a Balikatan next year and the year after that", he said.

"I would not say we are limited to where we are now", he said.

One of the major exercises this year will simulate a response to a major storm hitting the eastern Philippines, then cutting across heavily populated areas of the country including Manila.

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