PH, US expected to mount ‘more complex’ Balikatan next year: US ambassador

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 29 2023 03:00 PM

US Ambassador to the Philippines MaryKay Carlson during the closing ceremony for the Philippines United exercise Balikatan 38-2023 at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City on April 28, 2023. Maria Tan, ABS-CBN News
US Ambassador to the Philippines MaryKay Carlson during the closing ceremony for the Philippines United exercise Balikatan 38-2023 at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City on April 28, 2023. Maria Tan, ABS-CBN News

PULILAN, Bulacan — The Philippines and the United States are expected to mount a “more complex” and “more challenging” Balikatan exercises in next year after the traditional allies recently concluded its biggest military exercise earlier this month, United States Ambassador to the Philippines Marykay Carlson said on Saturday.

This year’s Balikatan exercises, where over 17,000 Filipino, American and Australian troops participated, “was very impressive” and was “absolutely the most complex we have ever done,” Carlson said during a forum here.

“Interoperability is hard… When you have ships that arrive on the eastern side of the Philippins, unload equipment, transfer over to the Sierra Madre mountains… These are practical things you need to do in the wake of a natural disaster,” she said.

“They will continue to make the complexity even more challenging because that is what we need to do to meet the challenges of the real world,” she said.

“We can expect the complexities to grow,” she added, noting that officials involved in the Balikatan games are expected to begin planning for next year’s exercises soon.

It is important for Manila and Washington to “strengthen our alliance so that we are better able to respond” to challenges in the Indo-Pacific region, Carlson said.

The Philippines and the US should “show that we continue to work together as allies, to show that we have mechanisms in place to confront any challenges along the way,” she said.

“What happens here is critical to what happens in the Indo-Pacific region,” she said.

“We’ve seen some threats to this region, probably more in the last several years… Challenges to the rules-based international order through provocations in the West Philippine Sea,” she said.

The US envoy made no mention of particular countries, but the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) earlier sought for an international condemnation of the latest swarming of Chinese militia ships near Julian Felipe Reef, which is part of the West Philippine Sea.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) is also mulling to file a diplomatic action over the near collision of a vessels in the disputed waters after a Chinese Coast Guard ship blocked Philippine patrol vessels near the Ayungin Shoal.

Amid these tensions, US President Joe Biden is expected to announce Washington’s continuous support for Manila during Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s trip to the US next week, the Ambassador said.

“I’m certain that at their meeting at the White House, President Biden will reaffirm the strong friendship between our 2 countries,” Carlson said.

“We are not only friends partners and allies, we are family… Those connections are deep and they are very, very strong,” she said, noting that ties between the Philippines and the United State also sprawl in the areas of education, business and sports.

The Philippines is the United States’ oldest treaty ally in Asia. The two countries share the Mutual Defense Treaty, which guaranties that one party will come to the aid of the other in the event of an attack.

The two countries have also signed the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which allows US troops to use and enter several military bases in the Philippines. This agreement was expanded recently from 5 accessible bases to 9, with the 4 new bases strategically situated either near the West Philippine Sea of Taiwan.

“The benefit of our close partnership is it improved the lives of communities in both our countries,” Carlson said.

Carlson is expected to fly to Washington D.C. on Saturday, ahead of Marcos Jr.’s departure on April 30.

Marcos Jr. will stay in the US until April 4, and will then leave to attend King Charles III’s coronation in London next weekend.


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