MANILA, Philippines — This year’s Balikatan exercises, the annual joint drills of the Philippines and United States, will focus on maritime security and amphibious capabilities.
This is the third round of annual military drills under President Rodrigo Duterte, who had once threatened to scrap the exercises. This is the first time under his leadership that the drills will focus on maritime security.
In 2017, the Balikatan centered on humanitarian assistance and disaster response, while the following year, it focused on counterterrorism.
“This year’s Balikatan focuses on maritime security and amphibious capabilities, as well as multinational interoperability through military exchanges. Exercises like Balikatan strengthen international partnerships and the participating militaries’ abilities to rapidly respond to crises throughout the Indo-Pacific region,” the US Embassy in Manila said in a statement on Friday.
Philippine and US forces will conduct amphibious operations, live-fire training, urban operations, aviation operations, and counterterrorism response across Luzon, including Palawan and Mindoro, provinces both facing the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
The drills will officially open on April 1 and run until April 12. Australia will join the activities as in previous years while there will be international observers from Asean.
This will also be the first Balikatan drills to incorporate amphibious assault ship USS Wasp with the US Marine Corps’ advanced stealth fighter jet F-35B Lightning II.
“Together they represent an increase in military capability committed to a free and open Indo-Pacific. Participating in Balikatan demonstrates their ability to forward deploy in support of an ally should a crisis or natural disaster occur,” the embassy said.
Pre-Balikatan activities kicked off with humanitarian and civic assistance activities in Tarlac, Batangas, Laguna and Bataan on Tuesday, said Balikatan public affairs chief Lt. Cmdr. Liz Vidallon.
Philippine and US troops will build medical facilities and classroom buildings at selected communities.
The beneficiaries of the classroom buildings are Don Eulogio Luistro Elementary School in Bulsa, San Juan, Batangas; Victor De Guia Elementary School in Balian, Pangil, Laguna; and Pag-Asa Elementary School in Orani, Bataan Province. The local government of Brgy. San Pedro, Moncada, Tarlac will receive a one-story medical clinic, she said.
There will also be free medical consultations, feeding program, veterinary care and hygiene kits distribution. They will also share information on family planning, health, environment protection, and disaster preparedness. /je
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