AFP, US Pacific command chiefs weigh future of US-PH military ties

Chiara Zambrano, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 22 2016 05:07 PM

U.S. and Filipino soldiers take part in an urban combat drill during a Philippine-U.S. military exercise in Cavite on Thursday. More than 4,000 American troops joined their Filipino counterparts for a series of military exercises in several provinces scheduled for ten days. Romeo Ranoco, Reuters

MANILA – The head of the Armed Forces of the Philippines met with the chief of the United States Pacific Command (US Pacom) on Tuesday to discuss the future of military cooperation between the two Pacific allies.

US Pacom chief Admiral Harry Harris was at the AFP headquarters to attend the annual Mutual Defense Board and Security Engagement Board (MDB-SEB) with AFP Chief of Staff Ricardo Visaya.

The annual assembly of the US and Philippine militaries defines the joint activities to be conducted in the coming year.

Among the joint exercises that the MDB-SEB facilitates are the Balikatan, the Philippine-US Amphibious Landing Exercises (Phiblex) and Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT), the three major war games between the Philippines and US.

The US and Philippine militaries held its meeting in the wake of President Rodrigo Duterte’s pronouncement that he would decrease the Philippines’ military engagement with its long-time ally.

Neither Visaya nor Harris agreed to be interviewed after the joint meeting.

It remains to be seen how the annual menu of US-Philippine joint exercises will be affected by Duterte's vocal rejection of the US as an ally.

Duterte has at one point declared his "separation" from the US in military affairs, calling out President Barack Obama and the US for its past atrocities in the southern Philippines.

Despite Duterte’s harsh words, Philippine military and security officials have maintained that the alliance and exercises between the US and the Philippines will remain.

A joint statement released after the meeting said the MDB-SEB gathering "highlights the enduring commitment of both countries to the US-Philippine alliance."

“We look forward to continued, close cooperation in areas central to both our national and security interests including humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, counter-terrorism, cyber security, and maritime security,” the joint statement read.

Details of what was discussed and the calendar of joint activities have yet to be released.

AFP spokesman, Brigadier General Restituto Padilla, said the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement was also discussed during the meeting.

It remains to be seen which exercises will continue, and which ones, if any, will be cancelled or reduced.

The government had earlier said that the US military involvement in the Philippines will focus on counter-terrorism, humanitarian assistance and disaster response.