By Rose Anne Dela Cruz
THE 34th Balikatan Military Exercises between the United States and Philippine armed forces officially opened Monday in a simple ceremony in Camp Aguinaldo.
About 5,000 soldiers, marines, airmen and sailors from the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and approximately 3,000 soldiers from the US marines, army, navy, air force and special operations forces are joining the Exercises.
Balikatan is the cornerstone of the Philippine-US military relations and the product of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), which allows the US troops in the country.
The VFA was entered into by the Philippine and United States governments after the latter’s military bases in Clark and Subic were kicked out of the country.
American US exercise director Lieutenant General Lawrence Nicholson said the purpose of Balikatan is to equip the forces against any threat that may come while his Filipino counterpart, Lieutenant General Emmanuel Salamat, disclosed that this year’s exercise will focus on enhancing capacity for humanitarian assistance and disaster response and counter terrorism.
Some of the AFP’s naval assets that will participate in the exercises are BRP Ramon Alcaraz and BRP Davao del Sur, as well as attack and utility aircraft such as SF 260, MG250, FA50, Sokol Choppers and C130.
Armored Personnel Carriers such as the Army’s M113 and ARV will also be used in the exercises.
Salamat said military exercises are open to the media contrary to what was earlier reported.
Meanwhile, US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim said the training will also incorporate training identified in the post-Marawi action reports such as military operation in urban terrain.
As this developed, Philippine and American authorities denied speculations that the installation of missiles in the Spratly islands by the Chinese military will affect the 11-day exercise, which is scheduled to end on May 11.
Earlier, Beijing confirmed that it has installed missiles in the Spratly islands, an area also claimed by the Philippines and Vietnam, but maintained that the move “targets no one.” The installation came as both China and the US are militarizing the South China Sea.