MANILA - A week after the signing of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) and the visit of US President Barack Obama, some 2,500 US troops and 3,000 Filipino soldiers will work together and participate in this year's Philippines-US Balikatan exercises.
The bilateral training, which will last for almost two weeks, held its opening ceremony at the AFP Commissioned Officers Club Monday morning.
The training will include staff planning exercises in Camp Aguinaldo and Western Command in Palawan and field training exercises in military camps in Luzon.
Field training events include maritime surveillance systems demonstration in Zambales, demonstration on air movement in Clark Airbase in Pampanga, and live fire improvised explosives devices and mass casualty response at Fort Magsaysay.
Major General Emeraldo Magnaye, Philippines Exercise Director, revealed that less than 100 Australian forces will also participate in this year's Balikatan exercises.
Both the US and the Philippines agreed to include the Australians in the exercises.
In his speech as guest of honor of the event, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said the bilateral alliance of the United States and the Philippines is adapting to the changing times and realities, which include the threat of terrorism and transnational crimes, climate change and disasters.
He said the Balikatan exercises proved to be very useful especially during the onslaught of typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) last year. Both Philippine and U.S forces helped deliver aid and assistance to thousands of victims of typhoon Yolanda.
Del Rosario thanked American troops for their help and assistance during Typhoon Yolanda.
He stressed the importance of the recent signing of the EDCA, which he said will boost the the country's maritime security, speed up response to disasters and preposition equipment and personnel.
For his part, US Ambassador Philip Golberg also highlighted the importance of having the yearly Balikatan exercises as shown by the experience of Typhoon Yolanda where Filipino and American troops helped each other in assisting victims of the typhoon. He also hailed the EDCA signing, saying that this will contribute to the region's peace, security and stability.
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said the Balikatan exercises promote inter-operability with Philippine and American troops and further develop AFP in crisis action.
He also pointed out the value and importance of the EDCA, saying it will pave the way for a deeper defense alliance between the two countries.
Congressman Rodolfo Biazon, chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on National Defense, said he is supportive of the EDCA. He said the EDCA is just an executive agreement that does not need Senate ratification.
He also said that the agreement will prevent China from harrasing and bullying Filipino fishermen and troops stationed in the West Philippine Sea.