'Largest' Balikatan military exercise with PH not a 'show of force': US military

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 28 2022 01:50 PM | Updated as of Mar 28 2022 03:24 PM

MANILA (UPDATE) - The United States military said Monday that its largest Balikatan military exercise with the Philippines is not a "show of force" amid the ongoing tension in the West Philippine Sea.

Maj. Gen. Jay Bargeron, exercise director of the US side and commander of the US 3rd Marine Division, issued the statement during the formal opening of the 2022 iteration of Balikatan, wherein a total of 9,000 American and Filipino soldiers are participating, with 40 others from the Australian Defense Force.

China's aggressive assertion of its claims in the South China Sea, within which is the West Philippine Sea, continues despite a 2016 landmark ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration invalidating it.

Nonetheless, Bargeron said this year's military exercises is a chance to further strengthen the alliance between the US and the Philippines, and can help both countries stay vigilant and prepare for any incident.

"Not at all. Balikatan 2022 is a tremendous training opportunity and it’s aimed at improving our security and defensive capabilities and our readiness to respond to any crisis anywhere," he said when asked if Balikatan 2022 is meant as a show of force in the region.

"I would also say it’s designed to enhance our interoperability, strengthen cooperation across the board and to contribute of course to peace and stability in the region," he added.

Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Gen. Andres Centino said the Balikatan exercise is the military's way of staying true to its partnership with the US.

"We cannot just plan or defend by ourselves, train by ourselves. It’s important that we continue to engage with our allies...The security of our country, the security of the region is a shared responsibility," he said.

This is the 37th time the Balikatan exercise is being held in the country, after it was suspended in 2020. It was held in 2021 on a smaller scale due to the pandemic.

The exercises also mark the 75th year of US-Philippine security cooperation.

The officials added they are confident this level of cooperation between the Philippines and US will continue even after the transition to a new administration t after the May elections.

Australia, New Zealand and Southeast Asian ally countries will serve as observers during the two-week exercises.

Various activities will be held in different parts of northern Luzon, including an amphibious landing exercise in Claveria, Cagayan; a counterterrorism and urban warfare exercise in Fort Magsaysay; live fire training in Tarlac; and other exercises in Subic.

It will be through these exercises that the Philippine Army's 1st Brigade Combat Team can further improve their skills, officials said.

Centino said the AFP will be using its new equipment for the exercises.

Prior to the start of the Balikatan exercises, Filipino and American soldiers started building schools in Cagayan and Isabela.

The US Navy earlier also held maritime exercises in the West Philippine Sea.

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- report from Anjo Bagaoisan, ABS-CBN News