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Philippines, US begin smaller-scale joint military exercises

Philippines, US begin smaller-scale joint military exercises”

This year the exercises will focus only on counter-terrorism and disaster relief, the heads of the Philippine and USA delegations said at the opening ceremony at the national military headquarters in Manila.

The changes were made at the behest of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, who has been at odds with the USA and Europe over his extrajudicial killings of suspected drug dealers and users, as well as reluctance to provoke China over disputed territory in the South China Sea.

Balikatan or "shoulder-to-shoulder" is a comprehensive joint military exercise between the US and its treaty ally, the Philippines.

His Filipino counterpart, Lt. Gen. Oscar Lactao, said the exercise priority was chosen based on the guidance from Duterte. "That fits well whether it is a conventional force operation or humanitarian disaster relief", according to Stars and Stripes.

Lactao is the Philippine exercise director for Balikatan 2017 and Nicholson is the exercise director for US.

Officials from both sides spoke in glowing terms at the opening ceremony for Balikatan (meaning "Shoulder-to-shoulder") about the upcoming exercise and their nations' military relations.

Philippines, US kick off annual joint military exercise

USA personnel involved in Balikatan aren't disappointed about the changes, he said.

Nicholson, in the same press briefing, said that anytime they get a chance to work with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is a privilege for them.

Duterte has in his 10 months in office sought to weaken ties with the United States, the Philippines' mutual defence treaty partner and former colonial ruler that he has said is diminishing as a global superpower.

This year's exercise, scheduled to last until May 19 focuses on humanitarian and disaster response operations, and search and rescue activities in urban areas in Nueva Ecija, Aurora, Isabela and Samar provinces.

"I'm confident there will be a Balikatan next year and the year after that", he said. "And so we are looking forward to a great couple of weeks", Nicholson said.

"I would not say we are limited to where we are now", he said. Frank Sayson said this was in line with scenario of this year's exercises which involves a massive storm or typhoon coming from the Pacific which will then pass through Eastern Visayas going to the National Capital Region, reaching maximum strength upon arrival on the northern tip of Luzon, and leaving behind severe devastation.



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