U.S. says Balikatan a 'most important exercise'
MANILA, Philippines – The US underscored the importance of the annual Balikatan exercises in strengthening its relationship with the Philippines, its longest treaty ally in the region.
US ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim and US Marines Lieutenant General Lawrence Nicholson were at the opening ceremony of Balikatan 2017 on Monday, May 8, and spoke of the need to continue training together.
"We are here today to open a key bilateral engagement between the US and the Philippines," Kim said in his speech.
"Balikatan is always a very important exercise. It is a very special and meaningful embodident of our robust bilateral relationship and reflects not only our strong military partnership but also the deep friendship between our two peoples, mutually beneficial economic ties and very importantly our shared history and shared interest," he said.
Nicholson, who leads up to 2,600 American troops who are here for the 12-day exercises, said it is important to continuously renew the bond between the two militaries.
"From across the entire Pacific Command, we are honored to participate in this most important exercise with this greaty ally of nearly 70 years, the Philippines," said Nicholson, the Balikatan exercise co-director.
For 12 days, the two militaries will share techniques and tactics on humanitarian assistance and disaster response (HADR) and fighting terrorism.
Balikatan is the biggest of dozens of joint training and exercises between the two militaries, which President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to end last year.
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief General Eduardo Año said the activities are mutually beneficial, citing the cooperation on fighting terrorism.
"On terrorism, the AFP and the US Armed Forces are working unceasingly to destroy all persons and factions who support this form of lunacy. Our successful operations in Bohol resulted in the death of 9 [local terrorists] including its spokesman and potential leader Abu Rami," Año said.
Lieutenant General Oscar Lactao, who led the operation in Bohol, is the Balikatan exercise co-director on the part of the Philippines – Rappler.com