PH, US line up hundreds of joint military activities for 2017

MANILA, Philippines – Armed Forces of the Philippines chief General Ricardo Visaya on Wednesday, November 23, confirmed that while two regular and high-profile war games between the Philippine and United States militaries have been scrapped, a total of 258 joint activities remain for 2017.

The huge number that was revealed for the first time showcases the degree of cooperation between the two longtime treaty allies. The number includes small exercises and meetings involving less than 5 participants from each country. (READ: Duterte's pivot to China won't be easy for Americanized AFP)

"There will be 258 [activities]. There used to be 260-plus, so there is a reduction of around 5," Visaya said.

This was the agreement between Visaya and US Pacific Command chief Admiral Harry Harris Jr during the Mutual Defense Board-Security Engagement Board (MDB-SEB) meeting held on Tuesday at Camp Aguinaldo, the military headquarters. 

The MDB-SEB meeting is held every year to set the direction of military cooperation between the two countries.

The two militaries have agreed to continue the biggest exercise, Balikatan, involving the army, the navy, and the air force.

They agreed to scrap the Philippine-US bilateral landing exercises (Phiblex) between the marines and the Cooperation Aflorat Readiness and Training exercises (CARAT) ship-to-ship-training. These exercises are usually conducted in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea). 

A lot of the other joint activities are small ones, according to military spokesperson Brigadier General Restituto Padilla. He said an example would be a training exercise conducted by two American officers for a group of, say, 15 Filipino soldiers. 

"The exercises will be more focused on counterterrorism, humanitarian assistance and disaster response, engineering and civic actions. They will be in line with the pronouncement and guidance of our President to the AFP," Visaya said.

"This is based on the guidance coming from the President. After we briefed the President in one of the Cabinet meetings, there was a reduction of the exercises," he said. 

Visaya said the American officers "respected" the Philippine decision to opt out of the exercises. Padilla said the US will pursue the same drills with other neighbors, however. – Rappler.com