The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Thursday, October 14, said that the Balikatan military exercise, its joint activity with the US military, will be back in full scale in 2022 after being affected by the pandemic.
“Yes, the relationship between our two Armed Forces, especially now that for this MDB-SEB activity, we have lined up number of activities that will further strengthen the bilateral relationship between our two militaries and as mentioned, we will go full scale Balikatan next year,” AFP Chief of Staff General Jose Faustino Jr. said during the Mutual Defense Board and Security Engagement Board (MDB-SEB) meeting on Thursday.
Full scale exercises mean that both the Philippine and US militaries would undergo a complete set of activities during the Balikatan.
In 2020, the annual joint military exercise was cancelled due to the pandemic. In this year’s Balikatan, still due to the COVID-19 threat, the activities held from April 12 to 23 were scaled down to adhere to health protocols.
The last full scale Balikatan was held from April 1 to 12, 2019 in various areas in the country. During one of the amphibious exercises in 2019, the Philippine and US military ‘took over’ the North Beach of the Naval Education Training Center in San Antonio, Zambales, as part of their simulation exercise.
Also for 2019, the exercise also marked one of the biggest delegation in the program’s history. A total of 4,000 Filipino, 3,500 American, and 50 Australian soldiers joined.
That figure was much bigger compared to the scaled down number for 2021. Only 736 AFP personnel participated, while the US military sent 225 participants.
The Balikatan Exercise is an annual event held by the two countries to ensure continuous cooperation and bilateral relations. In five years of Duterte as the military’s commander in chief, the Balikatan was held for at least four times.
Over 300 projects for 2021
During Faustino’s meeting with the US military officers, the long-time allies also agreed to hold more than 300 military projects for 2021.
“General [Jose] Faustino and Admiral [John] Aquilino’s meeting resulted in the successful completion of the Mutual Defense Board and Security Engagement Board (MDB-SEB), ensuring continued, robust relations between the U.S. and Philippine militaries. The US and Philippines agreed over 300 activities for 2021, an increase over 2020,” the AFP said in a statement Thursday.
The decision came after the completion of the MDB-SED meeting for this year led by Faustino and US Indo-Pacific Command chief John Aquilino on Thursday at Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City. In the same statement, Faustino said he was optimistic that the Philippines-US relationship will further strengthen.
“I am optimistic that our alliance will continue to be robust in view of new and emerging security challenges that confront our nations. After all, we share the same goal of keeping peace and stability in this region,” Manila’s military chief said.
In 1958, the MDB was established, while the SEB was founded in 2006. The two boards form the annual MDB-SEB conference, which plans the framework for defense and security projects between the Philippines and its long-time ally.
According to the AFP’s data, the Philippines had 319 military projects with the US in 2020. For 2021, the Philippines will have 353 activities, according to AFP spokesperson Colonel Ramon Zagala.
The Philippine military also saw an increase in its joint activities with the US after the restoration of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) this year. After years of President Rodrigo Duterte threatening to scrap the VFA, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana in July, announced that the Philippines will keep its agreement with the US. – Rappler.com