MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – This year’s Balikatan (Shoulder-to-shoulder) Exercises, the biggest yearly series of drills between Philippine and US forces, has been canceled due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“Due to concerns for the health and safety of the participating exercise forces and local populations near the planned exercise areas, the US Indo-Pacific Command has cancelled Exercise Balikatan 2020 scheduled for May 4 to 15 in the Republic of the Philippines,” the US Indo-PaCom said in a statement dated Thursday, March 26, and sent to reporters by the US Embassy in Manila on Friday, March 27.
“In light of the extraordinary cirumstances surrounding COVID-19 pandemic and in the best interest of the health and safety of both countries’ forces, it is prudent to cancel Balikatan 2020,” said US Indo-PaCom commander Admiral Phil Davidson.
“We remain deeply committed to our longstanding alliance and friendship,” Davidson added.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said on Saturday, March 28, that given the current situation, the Philippines has “no problem” with the cancellation of the military exercises.
“As I said, we had 6 months to do the major exercises but we gave them (the US) the decision to go ahead or not. However, events were overtaken by COVID-19, and since foreigners are banned from coming, then the exercises are canceled,” Lorenzana said.
Balikatan 2020 would have been the last iteration of the annual joint exercises, with the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) that allows for it set to lapse in August. President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the VFA’s repeal on February 11, setting off a 180-day countdown to its dissolution.
Set in May, the Balikatan was scheduled to still push through, with several thousand Filipino and American troops and an Australian military contingent set to participate. – Rappler.com