When military allies work together to complement each other’s strengths, they will reach their common goals, like global security and stability.
This was the message of Armed Forces chief Gen. Eduardo Año during the closing ceremonies of the Balikatan exercises held in Camp Aguinaldo on Friday, as he narrated Aesop’s tale of the hare and the tortoise as a metaphor.
The hare and the tortoise supposedly represent the military partnership of the Philippines and US. The two animals raced against each other four times at different circumstances. Eventually, they became friends and realized they could instead capitalize on each other’s strengths to get into the finish line in record time.
“As friends, they were able commit themselves to a common goal,” he said. “It was by complementing each other’s strength and mutual respect, that they were able to break the course record,” he said.
“Let us work together to enable us to provide our nations an environment of peace and security where we can all mutually prosper. May our diversity be our strength while we continue to keep our partnership strong and be always united in serving our country and our people,” he added.
But Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana improvised the AFP chief’s story in his own speech and gave it a sequel, saying that there were three main characters in the story.
“I’d like to continue the story of General Año about the hare the turtle. There is a fifth race actually, but this time there were already the three of them: The hare, the turtle and the kangaroo,” he said.
“They were racing against the bear and the dragon and of course the three won,” he added.
Whether the dragon and bear represent other countries would only leave the audience guessing as Lorenzana suddenly cut the tale short, probably realizing that it was already too metaphoric: “End of story.”
Traditionally, the bear and the dragon have been widely used to represent Russia and China, respectively.
‘Let’s continue this yearly’
The Balikatan exercises, the largest of the joint drills between the Philippines and US that was based on the Mutual Defense Treaty forged in 1951, must be continued annually to strengthen the bond of the two countries, Lorenzana said.
“Let us continue this yearly, not just to meet our obligation under the Mutual Defense Treaty, but also to strengthen the bond of friendship as well as our friendly relations with other nations.”
President Rodrigo Duterte, a staunch critic of the US, was aiming for a rebalance of the country’s foreign policy since he assumed office last year. But while he was pushing for a supposed independent foreign policy, he has developed warmer ties with China and Russia, countries seen as rivals of the US.
Last year, he wanted the Balikatan scrapped and said the 2016 edition would be the last. But he was eventually talked out of it.
The first Balikatan held under the leadership of Duterte shifted its focus on humanitarian assistance and disaster response instead of the usual territorial defense and maritime security
The two-week disaster response exercises were held in parts of Luzon and Visayas including Isabela, Cagayan, Aurora, Nueva Ecija and Eastern Samar.
Troops from Australia and Japan also participated in the drills.
“Balikatan is indeed a perfect demonstration of collaboration…if they work together, at the burden of threats and challenges has made life if we shoulder the load together,” Lorenzana said.
He also shared Filipino words that described the Philippines’ relationship with the US and other participating countries as he thanked them: Kaibigan (friend), Kakampi (ally), Kabalikatan (from Balikatan or shoulder-to-shoulder), and Kadamay (somebody who shares your hardship and triumph).
The US, meanwhile, expressed that they are already looking forward to next year’s joint drills.
“I know that we just finished but we’re already looking forward to training together as friends, partners and allies for next year’s Balikatan,” said US Ambassador to Manila Sung Kim. /atm
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