IN PHOTOS: How PH, U.S. troops will respond to next big disaster
AURORA, Philippines – The Philippines' BRP Tarlac and the US's Black Hawks and Ospreys aren't a usual sight in the Philippines, especially not in the sleepy town of Casiguran, Aurora, host of a disaster response drill in this year's Balikatan exercises.
Combined forces of the two countries' militaries demonstrated on Monday, May 15, how they would respond should a massive storm hit the country, similar to Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) in 2013.
Disaster response is one of the two themes of this year's joint military exercises, which President Rodrigo Duterte earlier threatened to cancel.
Amid an apparent shift to an "independent foreign policy" that would see the Philippines step back from the US and closer to China and Russia, mainstays in previous iterations of Balikatan – a drill to counter a possible Philippine invader – were scrapped to focus on humanitarian assistance and counter-terrorism drills.
Duterte seems keen on improving ties with China despite an ongoing dispute over the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea).
Still, he was persuaded to continue the Balikatan, a long-standing tradition between the two countries. Through the exercises, the Philippine and United States militaries familiarize themselves with each other, making it easier to work together in times of need.
The drill was held in Aurora, officials explained, because aide is often best delivered through the sea. Towns in the eastern seaboard of the Philippines are often completely cut off via land travel during disaster.
While this year's Balikatan was clearly less grand than before, both Philippine and US officials denied that anything was "downsized." – Rappler.com