MANILA, Philippines – The PH-US Balikatan Exercises 2012 (BK12) formally opens Monday, April 16, amid Manila’s continuing standoff with Beijing in the disputed Scarborough Shoal (Panatag Shoal).
Both the Philippine and US governments have allayed fears that the 12-day joint military exercises are meant to provoke China, pointing out that these will focus on humanitarian assistance and disaster response drills.
Malacañang has said the exercises were planned before the current standoff with China.
A total of 2,300 Filipino soldiers and 4,000 American troops will be participating in the joint exercises that will be conducted simultaneously in different areas in the country.
The first event will involve humanitarian and civic assistance projects in Palawan. Both forces will build classrooms in 5 barangays and hold medical, dental, veterinary civic action projects in identified communities.
Prior to Monday’s formal opening ceremony, the participating troops built school buildings in 6 communities in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan’s capital. Over 22,000 residents are expected to benefit from the civil-military operation activities.
The second event – cross-training and field training exercises in mainland Luzon and Palawan province – is designed to improve the interoperability of the Philippine and US military forces.
Exercises for the Special Operations Forces from both militaries will be held in Zamboanga, Jolo and Basilan, according to the website of the Presidential Commission on the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).
An exercise aimed at testing the existing humanitarian assistance and disaster response concept plans of the Philippine government and other foreign and local aid agencies will also be conducted, to identify gaps and solutions in handling disaster and relief management.
According to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), similar bilateral exercises have been held in 2008 and 2010.
Balikatan 2012’s opening ceremonies will be held at the AFP’s Camp Aguinaldo Officers’ Club, led by Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, US Ambassador Harry K Thomas Jr and key security officers.
Anti-Balikatan protests by cause-oriented groups in Manila and Mindanao are also expected to be staged simultaneous with the opening ceremony.
“The relationship between the US Armed Forces and the Armed Forces of the Philippines continues to be healthy and vibrant. The cooperation between the two Armed Forces manifests the unswerving dedication and commitment of our security forces towards a more stable and secure Asia-Pacific region,” said AFP chief Gen Jessie D. Dellosa in a statement. – Rappler.com