SECURITY officials are set to discuss before the Mutual Defense Board-Security Engagement Board (MDB-SEB) a “reduced” number of joint exercises between the Philippines and the US that was recently approved by President Rodrigo Duterte, a Defense official disclosed on Tuesday.
Arsenio Andolong, director of the Public Affairs Service of the Department of National Defense (DND), said Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has recommended the reduction of war games to fewer than 10.
Before, according to Andolong, there had been about 28 exercises every year but the previous administration had reduced it to about 13.
“So now with the new administration, it will come down to about half of that, so it would be half a dozen, There is no definite figure yet because it is still being discussed,” he said.
Technically, Andolong added, there were more exercises terminated during the time of then-president Benigno Aquino 3rd than under the Duterte administration.
A source said this was not disclosed because the Aquino administration was hiding it from the “enemy.”
Lorenzana said on Monday that the President approved his Cabinet’s recommendations to continue implementation of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) and some joint exercises between the Philippines and the US.
Among others that would be terminated are naval exercises called Philippines Amphibious Landing Exercise (Phiblex) and Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (Carat).
The Balikatan (shoulder-to-shoulder), a signature element of the Philippine-US alliance, and others will continue but they will be refocused on non-traditional operations such as Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response (HADR) and counter-terrorism, Andolong said.
There will also be some aspects of anti-narcotics operation, he added.
MDB-SEB is a series of defense and security-related meetings held each year between the Philippines and the United States.
The meetings foster strong relationships between the Philippines and the US military and improve their abilities to work together on mutual defense and security that includes HADR, cyber-security and anti-terrorism.
When asked if the US is insisting on retaining Phiblex and Carat, Andolong said, “We will have to tell them that that is not the direction that we want to take because the President has already specified what he wants and Ithink that he was very vocal about that. If they want to be treated as allies, they should listen to what our needs are and what they also require.” FERNAN MARASIGAN