Pinoy, US troops planning for next ‘Balikatan’

David Yu Santos
The results of the 2+2 meeting between PH, US officials will set the direction of future joint war games between the Philippines and the US

Will the high-level 2+2 meeting between PH, US officials in Washington DC will direct the future of the Balikatan Exercises? (Photo from Department of National Defense)

MANILA, Philippines – Just days after wrapping up the 28th Balikatan Exercises, representatives of the Philippines and US armed forces are set to meet again in May for the initial planning conference of next year’s joint war games.

“Immediately after this (28th Balikatan Exercises), there will be debriefings and critiques on what transpired, as well as the lessons we have learned,” Philippine military spokesman Col Arnulfo Burgos said.

The planning conference comes as the US hosted the PH-US 2+2 meeting on Monday, April 30, in Washington DC, aimed at strengthening bilateral cooperation.

The Philippine delegation, led by Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, met with their US counterparts Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, along with with officials from their respective departments.

The PH-US relationship is “part and parcel” of the larger US strategy in the Asia-Pacific region, Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt John Kirby said in Washington DC last weekend.

During the closing ceremony of the 28th Balikatan Exercise last April 27, Defense Undersecretary Honorio Azcueta said that the Scarborough incident was on the talks’ agenda, particularly on how both countries “can maintain the freedom of navigation and unimpeded commerce in that area.” (Read the PH-US joint statement here.)

AFP chief Gen Jessie Dellosa stressed the need for the Philippines to assert its rights over disputed territories.

“It is apparent that a practical blend of the concepts of ‘might is right’ and ‘right is might’ should be explored, shared among friends and allies, and eventually put to good use,” Dellosa said in his speech at the closing of the joint exercises last week. “For the Philippines, striking a workable mix may also require increasing capacities to defend its dignity and its right as a sovereign nation.”

“While diplomacy is the normative path to thread, it should be matched with capabilities to attain stability, security and development. That is the prevailing logic of Balikatan and the strategic partnership of our forces,” Dellosa added.

Asked to clarify whether Dellosa referred to future Balikatan Exercises that would address external aggression, Azcueta said, “No, the exercises for the (succeeding) Balikatan will still be discussed. We still have to plan (them out).”

Both sides have not given a specific date for the next Balikatan.

“Every year, (the focus of the war games) changes. It is usually a 5-year plan, (we follow the) odd-even (rule). For odd-numbered years, it will be focused on military combat maneuvers. But for even-numbered years, it will be focused on humanitarian assistance and disaster repsonse,” Maj Emmanuel Garcia, spokesman of the 28th Balikatan Exercises, explained.

Recently, 9,000 US troops from their base in Japan were pulled out and were re-deployed to Guam and other Micronesian Islands, as well as Singapore and even the Philippines.

Greener Balikatan

The AFP said that so far, one thing is guaranteed in the 29th Balikatan Exercise – it will strive to be environment friendly.

Maj Garcia said that aside from the traditional joint exercises, the concept of “environment impact mitigation” will be introduced amid criticisms by cause-oriented groups that the annual war games are causing destruction in areas where exercises are held.

Kalikasan party-list secretary-general Frances Quimpo was quoted as telling reporters that “war and combat simulations (during the joint exercises) which involved naval manuverings and live fire exercises have caused coral reef destruction and ecological pollution.”

“These activities also consumed massive resources like fossil fuels and released large volumes of toxic waste into air, land and sea,” Quimpo added.

Garcia insisted that both armed forces comply with “international safety standards” in the conduct of the war games, urging critics to look into commercial shipping vessels that emit more pollution compared to the military’s limited sea assets.

He also denied that explosions were simulated near coral reefs reserves. –