MANILA, Philippines — US soldiers participating in the first Balikatan exercises under President Rodrigo Duterte have arrived in the Philippines.
The 33rd iteration of the annual joint exercises between the US and Philippine militaries will formally begin on May 8, but “preliminary work” on community infrastructure projects have began, according to a statement issued by the US embassy on Monday, April 24.
“Philippine and US forces will kick off Exercise Balikatan 33-2017 through community engagement activities in Panay, Leyte, and Samar. US and Filipino service members will work together to renovate 5 schools and conduct community medical engagements with local residents in the opening days of the 12-day military training exercise. Preliminary work on community infrastructure projects began mid-April,” the US embassy said.
The first Balikatan exercises under Duterte will focus on humanitarian assistance and disaster response and counter-terrorism.
Duterte previously threatened to scrap war games between the US and Philippine militaries, saying he wants to forge a foreign policy that is independent from the country’s longtime treaty ally. He also cited protests from China, which had opposed war games between the US and Philippine militaries.
“Balikatan is designed to meet current challenges facing the Philippines… Along with preparing the U.S. forces’ and AFP’s ability to respond to natural disasters and deliver humanitarian aid, Balikatan will also increase our militaries’ counterterrorism capabilities,” said US embassy press attaché Molly Koscina.
The Philippines and the US have two key treaty agreements. The Mutual Defense Treaty binds the Philippines and the US to help each other if the other’s sovereignty is threatened. The Visiting Forces Agreement meanwhile allows the rotational presence of US troops in the Philippines even after the Philippine Senate evicted US bases here. – Rappler.com