PH-US war games end amid escalating sea tensions
MANILA, Philippines – Philippine and US officials formally closed the Balikatan 2014 war games on Friday, May 13, recognizing the changing security environment in the region.
"Today's complex and dynamic security environment presents challenges that no nation or armed forces can face alone. These are the challenges of the 21st century, and these include maritime security and climate change," Armed Forces of the Philippines chief General Emmanuel Bautista said in his speech.
The war games were held as regional tension continued to escalate to a fever pitch.
The Philippines is protesting the reclamation activities by China in Mabini (Johnson Reef), which is also claimed by Vietnam. Anti-China protesters in Vietnam have set more than a dozen factories on fire following China's deployment of an oil rig in waters contested between the two nations.
Thousands of troops participated in the war games which included maritime security exercises in beaches facing the disputed waters, and disaster response exercises in typhoon-hit areas. (READ: US troops in PH learn how to trap, eat snake for survival, PH, US war games also for counterterrorism, anti-insurgency, PH-US war games: boat raid, live fire)
The war games this year also saw the participation of Australian troops for the first time. About 60 of them joined nearly 5,000 Filipino troops and 2,500 Americans.
Mutual Defense Treaty
The Philippines and the US are bound by the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty to defend each other from external armed attacks. US Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission Brian Goldbeck highlighted how the Balikatan exercises will make sure that the 2 militaries will know how to work together should the need arise.
"Hopefully, you will never have to fight your way onto an objective, or storm a beach in real life like you did during these exercises. Hopefully you wont have to respond to another disaster on the scale of typhoon Yolandam," Goldbeck said.
He added, "But if, God forbid, it comes to that, now you know that regardless of the uniform they wear the man or woman standing shoulder to shoulder with you is a friend and an ally and act together you can overcome any challenge."
Watch the exercises below:
EDCA and bases offered to US
The war games were also held in the backdrop of a new Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement between the Philippines and the US that was signed shortly before the visit of US President Barack Obama on April 28.
EDCA was prompted by the Philippines' request for US assistance in the wake of escalating tension with China over claims in the West Philippines Sea (South China Sea).
With EDCA, future war games are expected to be more sophisticated. The agreement allows the increased presence of US troops in the Philippines and allows them two new activities: construction and upgrade of military facilities inside Philippine bases and the storage and prepositioning of defense and disaster response assets in the country.
Bautista earlier named 3 military bases that may be offered to the US troops: a naval detachment in Oyster Bay, Palawan; a naval station in San Antonio, Zambales; and Fort Magsaysay, an Army base in Nueva Ecija. (READ: PH wants to use bases facing the West PH Sea)
"It's only just because they are facing the West Philippines Sea. But they are good bases that can be developed. There is room for development in these bases," Bautista said.