THE United States and the Philippines will hold scaled-down Balikatan (shoulder-to-shoulder) military exercises on the second week of May, a military official said on Sunday.
But unlike previous drills that highlighted territorial defense, this year’s exercises will no longer be considered war games because participants will focus on humanitarian assistance and disaster response (HADR) situations and counter-terrorism.
“This is no longer a war game. No war game will happen this year but HADR and human assistance projects where some already started in Leyte and Samar last first week of April to meet deadlines on the culmination of Balikatan exercises,” said Maj. Celeste Frank Sayson, Exercise Balikatan spokesman.
He said details of the exercises are still being fine-tuned because of the many adjustments done based on the pronouncements of President Rodrigo Duterte.
The President has been playing down the war games with the US, saying no technology was transferred to the Philippines, a stance contradicted by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.
Lorenzana had said that under the exercises, Filipino troops were able to use modern weapons and try technology that the Philippine military does not have.
Filipino soldiers, he added, are also being exposed to new systems, tactics and concepts in war fighting like joint landings, marksmanship, fire and maneuvers. The training on humanitarian assistance and disaster readiness are very significant knowledge “which helps us to react in times of calamities.”
In this year’s Balikatan, Sayson said no activities will be held in Palawan which faces the disputed South China Sea. Also, there will be no live fire exercises in Zambales.
Most of the drills will be held in Central Command in Visayas, Northern Luzon, and Subic which is the offloading area, he added.
“As of now I cannot give exact details because there are a lot of things that are being ironed out, being fine-tuned. There are many things that are still being adjusted based on what the President had said,” Sayson said.
Duterte, according to Sayson, wants the exercises to focus on humanitarian and disaster response.