Manila, Philippines – The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the United States Army (US) opened on Monday the 36e Exercise Balikatan with a ceremony held at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City.
AFP Chief of Staff General Cirilito Sobejana declared the exercise open, which is an annual activity for Filipino and US troops.
âExercise Balikatan, since its inception in 1991, has been a treasure trove of learning opportunities for Filipino and American soldiers and, in recent years, would also include our other allies here in the Indo-Pacific region,â said Sobejana.
The ChargÃ© d’Affaires of the US Embassy in the Philippines, John Law, was also present at the ceremony along with other officials from AFP and the US military.
âJoint exercises like Balikatan demonstrate our shared commitment to peace and stability and the adaptability of the US and Philippine forces. The United States will continue to seek ways, even during the pandemic, to strengthen our security cooperation, âLaw said.
Department of National Defense Undersecretary Cesar Yano presided over the opening ceremony for the exercise, which he said “will revive the friendship, partnership and alliance between the Philippines and the United States. United”.
This year’s Balikatan will feature a bilateral staff exercise, close air support training, topic exchanges, maritime security training, and humanitarian and civic assistance activities.
These events will take place in areas under the Northern Luzon Command and the Southern Luzon Command, AFP reported.
As part of humanitarian and civic assistance activities, the Filipino and US military are building two classrooms and a day care center in Plaridel, Bulacan province, as well as a classroom in Atimonan and a health center in Mauban , both in the province of Quezon.
The projects began on March 26 and are expected to end on April 23, coinciding with the conclusion of the fiscal year.
AFP assured that the activities related to the Balikatan exercise will be carried out with “the greatest consideration and the greatest respect” of the directives set by the inter-agency working group of the government against COVID-19 to “ensure the safety of participants and the community “.
Adjustments were also implemented, in particular the reduction in the number of participants from both armies. AFP will have 736 people participating while the US military will have around 225 participants.
“Although this year’s exercises are toned down due to the current health crisis, which has affected not only the Philippines, but the entire world alike – these circumstances will not, however, diminish or hinder the actual intent of the exercises. of Balikatan – that is, fostering a stronger and more solid military relationship and interoperability between our two armed forces, âsaid Sobejana.
“In this context and despite these challenges, the decrease is only in terms of numbers and never in the passion and desire of the participating nations to achieve the ambitious goals set in each exercise,” said Major General Edgard. Arevalo, spokesperson for AFP and also for Balikatan. exercise director.
Arevalo’s US counterpart Colonel Aaron Brunk reiterated the importance of bilateral exercise.
âI am very honored to be here today and to stand alongside our Filipino allies and friends. By training together, our armies build on and reinforce each other, âsaid Brunk.
Balikatan is a Tagalog expression for “shoulder to shoulder,” which characterizes the spirit of the exercise and represents the partnership between the United States and the Philippines, AFP said.
Last year’s Balikatan exercise was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.