MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines and the United States launched on Monday, May 5, the annual Balikatan war games a week after US President Barack Obama vowed "ironclad" commitment to defend the country against external attacks.
The exercises that will run from May 5-16 in military bases near the flashpoints of disputes between Manila and Beijing – Palawan and Zambales provinces – will demonstrate maritime security cooperation between the two treaty allies, according to Armed Forces of the Philippines chief General Emmanuel Bautista.
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"This year's Balikatan focuses on maritime security and the conduct of exercises will result in a platform of regional engagement and development of military capabilities, advanced inter-operability, capacity joint planning and execution, and demonstrate Philippines and US relationsip in maritime security," said Bautista.
Military cooperation with the US, said Bautista, is important in "maintaining stability in Southeast Asia and Asia Pacific."
Balikatan – literally shoulder to shoulder – is a regular training exercise between the two countries. About 3,000 Filipino troops and 2,500 American troops are participating.
“Remember, while this may be an exercise the skills you practice here have real world implications for the safety and security not just of the Philippines but of the entire region," said US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg.
Australian troops numbering less than 100 will participate in the maritime security exercises as mentors, according to Lieutenant Annaleah Cazcarro, co-director of the Combined Joint Information Bureau of the PH-US Balikatan Exercise 2014.
Humanitarian assistance too
Staff planning exercises will be held in the military headquarters at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City and the Western Command in Palawan, the province where the disputed Kalayaan Group of Islands (Spratlys) are attached to.
Field training exercises, such as Maritime Surveillance Systems Demonstration, will be held at the Naval Education and Training Command in Zambales, the province where the Panatag Shoal (Scarborough) is also attached to. This is the other flashpoint in the dispute between Manila and Beijing.
Demonstration on air movement, live fire, counter improvised explosives devices, and mass casualty response will be held at Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija
A showcase of Philippine Air Force and US Air Power will be held at the Clark Air Base, urban search and rescue field training exercises at Camp Lapu-Lapu in Cebu City, and combined arms live fire exercise at Crow Valley Range in Tarlac.
Balikatan 2014 will also focus on humanitarian assistance and disaster response. Combined cooperative healthcare engagement will be held in typhoon-devastated Leyte province.
Both camps highlighted the military cooperation in the aftermath of typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), where the US stepped up to assist the Philippines.
EDCA to expand Balikatan
It allows the US troops two new activities outside Balikatan:
EDCA, a 10-year agreement, is the result of Philippines' request for US military assistance in the wake of escalating tension with China over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
"With the recent signing of EDCA, we expect greater cooperation interoperability amongst our forces outside the Balikatan scheme," said Major General Emeraldo Magnaye, Balikatan 2014 Philippine Exercise director.
The Philippines and US panels have yet to complete the annexes that will identify the military bases where US troops will be allowed to preposition equipment and construct facilties. – Rappler.com