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US, Philippines kick off scaled-back Balikatan exercise

09 May 2017
US, Philippines kick off scaled-back Balikatan exercise

MANILA-Despite the lack of offensive military exercises in this year's "Balikatan" manuevers, participating USA troops are still looking forward to training with their Filipino counterparts.

Mr Prashanth Parameswaran, a security and foreign policy expert at Tufts University, said it is "still early days, with new leaderships on both sides, and things could change further down the line in Manila's ties with the major powers as they have often done in the past". Since taking office last June, he has taken a softer stance than his predecessor toward territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea and has ordered some of the joint drills scrapped.

Balikatan, which means "shoulder-to-shoulder" in Filipino, is an annual military exercise between the United States and Philippines military forces.

Officials say 5,400 personnel - 2,600 Americans and 2,800 Filipinos - will be involved, or about half of the 11,000 troops who took part previous year.

Delfin Lorenzana, DFA USec. for Civilian Security and Consular Concerns, Ariel Y. Abadilla, AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Eduardo Año and Lt. Gen. Lawrence D. Nicholson, USMC, co-director of Balikatan 2017 join hands at the opening ceremony of the military exercises at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City.

It sent 20 of its forces to participate mainly in exercises on humanitarian assistance and disaster response, Lactao said.

It sent 80 of its soldiers to participate in special operations exercises, according to exercise director Lieutenant General Oscar Lactao.

Duterte responded to criticism from then-US president Barack Obama by repeatedly using personal slurs against him.

In a press conference, Lactao admitted that "political authorities" decided on the humanitarian and disaster relief focus of this year's military exercise.

It's a privilege for US forces to train with the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Nicholson added.

US Ambassador Sung Kim said the exercises address global challenges.

"I'm confident there will be a Balikatan next year and the year after that", he said. "We hope it gets bigger", he said.

Referring to a Mutual Defense Treaty signed by the two governments in 1951, Yasay said, "Our agreement, that will be respected and this is what the president clearly meant". "I'm very confident that our cooperation and collaboration and our exercises will continue to progress for many, many years and decades".