‘Balikatan exercises proof of strong ties with US’

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THIS year’s Balikatan (shoulder to shoulder) exercises between the Philippine and United States armed forces signify the strong relationship between the two countries, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said on Friday.

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After the 12-day downscaled training, Lorenzana, alongside military officials, formally ended the 33rd edition of the annual exercises.

“It was heartwarming to see Filipinos, Americans, Australian soldiers and Japanese soldiers interacting with our countrymen and in fact, I have seen that you were also successful in winning their hearts,” the Cabinet official said in a speech.

Among the exercises conducted by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the US Armed Forces was the humanitarian assistance disaster relief (HADR) exercise and counter-terrorism operations.

Lorenzana said HADR and counter-terrorism trainings should not be downplayed, noting that the country is a disaster-prone country and “has also been a haven of terrorism for quite some time.”

“We have to address some of the pressing problems of the country…our country lies within the typhoon belt and the [Pacific] ring of fire. We are visited by typhoons at least 20 times a year and once in a while, we have strong earthquakes,” he said.

The HADR operations between the Philippine and American militaries were held in Calayan Islands near Isabela province.

Sung Kim, US ambassador to the Philippines, echoed Lorenzana’s remarks, saying that the hard work during the training indicated “reinforced long standing ties.”

“Exercises like [the]Balikatan build upon the long and productive history between our two militaries and ensure that we are always ready to stand shoulder to shoulder in defense of our alliance, our shared values and the international rules-based order,” he said.

Kim said the US was already looking forward to training together “as friends, partners and allies” for the next year’s Balikatan exercises.

For AFP chief Eduardo Año, the exercises reminded him of the story of the race of hare and the tortoise.

“As friends, they were able to commit themselves to a common goal. It was by complementing each other’s strength and mutual respect, that they were able to break the course record,” he said.

The exercises were only downscaled after President Rodrigo Duterte sought to end the Balikatan exercises with the US last year, so as not to agitate China. Duterte also claimed there was no transfer of technical know-how during large-scale drills with the Americans.

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