Philippines, US Launch Smaller Military Exercises

The 12-day exercise won't include the usual live-fire exercises geared toward territorial defense or maritime security, officials said.

The PH-U.S. joint military drills, which opened at Camp Aguinaldo on Monday, would last for two weeks.

The previous Aquino administration also wanted a visiting forces agreement with Japan, but this has so far not been raised in the new government of President Rodrigo Duterte.

The annual joint exercises pushed through despite Duterte's threat previous year to have them scrapped altogether.

Only 5,400 USA and Filipino soldiers are participating in this year's Balikatan, barely half of last year's 11,000.

During a trip to Beijing a year ago, Duterte, a self-described socialist, announced that he was in the "ideological flow" of China's communist rulers.

Opening rites for the "Balikatan" or "Shoulder-to-Shoulder" exercises were led by Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and US Ambassador Sung Kim at the Philippine military's headquarters in metropolitan Manila.

Philippine Army Lt. Gen. Oscar Lactao and III Marine Expeditionary Force commander Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson, the exercise's directors, gave upbeat answers to reporters' questions about the drills.

Philippines, US kick off annual joint military exercise
Philippines-US joint military exercise to begin on 8 May

The Balikatan exercise directors of both the Philippines and the United States said this year they are looking forward to a very productive 33rd Balikatan Exercises, which focuses on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) operations and counterterrorism.

The changes were as instructed by Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte who has had an antagonistic stance toward the U.S. security policies while expanding security ties with China and Russian Federation.

He said the bills, while widely publicized, would still have to go through the legislative process in the US Senate that could take a long while.

It's a privilege for US forces to train with the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Nicholson added.

This year's maneuvers in the Philippines will focus on disaster response and battling counter-terrorism.

About 2,600 Pentagon soldiers and 2,800 Filipinos, as well as troops from Australia and Japan, are involved on Balikatan or Shoulder-to-Shoulder exercises, spokesman Celeste Frank Sayson said.

This year's exercise will take place in Manila and be based on a scenario of troops responding to a super-typhoon in the Philippines.

(Copyright © 2015. All Rights Reserved.)

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