PH defense officials turn to fables in Balikatan closing
During a program where military and civilian officials from both the United States and the Philippines repeatedly emphasized the importance of cooperation and friendship between the two long-time defense treaty allies, Philippine top defense officials turned to a beloved fable to better illustrate why it’s ideal for the two countries to be allies.
Outgoing Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief General Eduardo Año, speaking during the closing ceremonies of the Balikatan 2017 on Friday, May 19, likened the relationship of the two countries and militaries to that the tortoise and the hare in the Aesop Fable.
But in Año’s version, 3 more races happen.
In the second, the hare makes no stops and wins the race. In third, the tortoise introduces a water obstacle which the hare is unable to cross. During the fourth race, the two combine forces to finish the race the fastest and break the course record.
“Let us work together to enable us to provide our nations an environment of peace and security where we can all mutually prosper. May our diversity be our strength while we continue to keep our partnership strong and be always united in serving our country and our people,” added Año, who will soon be leaving the military ahead of his scheduled retirement to be the next interior secretary.
But Año’s boss, Defense chief Delfin Lorenza, took the metaphor further.
“There's a fifth race, actually,” said Lorenzana during his speech to close the event.
“This time, there were 3 of them – the hare, the turtle and the kangaroo. They were racing against the bear and the dragon. Of course, the 3 won. End of the story,” added the defense chief and former soldier, to the wild applause of soldiers – Filipino, American, Australian, and Japanese – in the audience.
It was a barely veiled quip amid the Philippines’ apparent shift in foreign policy under President Rodrigo Duterte.
The former city mayor, who has long expressed a disdain for the United States, wants to forge an “independent foreign policy” that would see the country lessen its ties to America while improving relations with China and Russia.
The bear is a popular symbol for Russia while the dragon is also a symbol for China.
This year’s Balikatan almost didn’t push through, until Duterte was convinced by defense advisers to let it happen. It’s been scaled down, however.
Unlike in previous years, this year’s Balikatan does not include drills that would prepare Filipinos and American troops for an invasion of the Philippines by another country – a potentially touchy event given Duterte’s shift to China and an ongoing dispute over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
“Let us continue this yearly, not just to meet our obligation under the Mutual Defense Treaty but also to strengthen the bond of friendship as well as our friendly relations with other nations,” added Lorenzana.
As the Balikatan came to a close, the Palace said a defense deal between the Philippines and Russia will be signed when Duterte visits Moscow and St Petersburg at the end of May 2017.
Just last week, Duterte was in China to attend a trade forum. – Rappler.com
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