Disaster response a priority in 1st PH-US Balikatan under Duterte

Balikatan is one of the three large-scale joint exercises conducted annually by the Philippines and the United States.

The announcement was made by US Armed Forces Major, Frank Sayson, the designated spokersperson for the joint exercise, a week after Duterte announced that he wanted a joint military exercise with China in Sulu.

Last year, more than 10,000 soldiers joined the military exercise, which for years included live-fire exercises and amphibious landing exercises.

Officials say 5,400 personnel, including 2,600 Americans and 2,800 Filipinos, are participating in the exercises this year.

Although an worldwide tribunal ruled largely in favor of the Philippines a year ago - a ruling that China ignored - Duterte has shelved the dispute in favor of currying economic favor with Beijing.

Philippine Army Lt. Gen. Oscar Lactao and III Marine Expeditionary Force commander Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson, the exercise's directors, gave upbeat answers to reporters' questions about the drills.

Unlike the previous Balikatans, this year's bilateral exercise has been scaled down, with its activities only focusing on counterterrorism and humanitarian assistance and disaster response, leaving out its joint sea, air and land military operations aspect.

"Moving a force in a country like the Philippines ... those are skills that are pertinent to any type of military operation", Nicholson said.

In a joint press conference held on Monday (May 8) at Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City, shortly after the opening ceremonies of the Balikatan held at the AFP Commissioned Officers Club (AFP), Lt. Gen. Oscar Lactao and Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson, Balikatan exercise director of the Philippines and the USA, respectively, said that despite the scaling down of the exercises, the scenarios are equally important to them.

Lorenzana said what has changed in the exercises now is the focus on humanitarian assistance and disaster response and counterterrorism.

The 72-year-old president later clarified that he wanted to chart a foreign policy independent of the U.S. and to seek stronger ties with other countries, including China and Russian Federation.

"No nation can face today's challenges alone, whether a natural disaster ravages part of the world or a man-made crisis shocks a community, our two military and deliver a much stronger response together", Kim said.

Nicholson, in the same press briefing, said that anytime they get a chance to work with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is a privilege for them.

  • Joey Payne