Nearly 9,000 personnel from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and its United States military counterparts will participate in this year’s “Balikatan” joint military exercises in various parts of Luzon from March 28 to April 8.
The figure is composed of 3,800 AFP members and 5,100 US military personnel for a total of 8,900 who will train on maritime security, amphibious operations, live-fire training, urban operations, aviation operations, counterterrorism, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
The figure is so far the largest number of combined personnel of the two military units in the annual exercise the Philippines hosted since the Covid-19 pandemic started.
Maj. Gen. Charlton Sean Gaerlan AFP exercise director for Balikatan 2022, said Tuesday the Balikatan Exercise is a “testament to the strength of the Philippine-United States security relationship.”
Gaerlan said the experience gained from these exercises complements security cooperation endeavors between Manila and Washington DC and will help to enhance existing mutual security efforts.
Under this year’s Balikatan, the AFP and the US military will also conduct multiple humanitarian and civic assistance undertakings, including the renovation of four elementary schools, community health engagements, and sharing of advanced emergency rescue and lifesaving techniques.
These undertakings, he added, further improve local infrastructure, share lifesaving medical skills, and strengthen ties between Philippine communities and Philippine and American military forces.
Maj. Gen. Jay Bargeron, commander of the US Marine Corps’ 3rd Marine Division, for his part explained that during Balikatan, “the US military and AFP will train together to expand and advance shared techniques and tactics as well as procedures that strengthen our response capabilities and readiness for real-world challenges,” adding that the “friendship and trust between our forces will enable us to accomplish any mission across the spectrum of military operations.”
Aside from what have been cited, the exercise will also include a command post exercises that will test the AFP and US forces’ ability to plan, command, and communicate with each other in a simulated conflict environment. This training will bolster the collective security and defensive capabilities of the alliance.
Exercise officers assured that as pandemic mitigation remains a priority for both nations, US troops will comply with all Covid-19 travel regulations set by the Philippine government and will maintain safe physical distancing and wear face masks during exercises as operationally feasible.
“Balikatan” is a Tagalog term that means “sharing the load together shoulder-to-shoulder” which characterizes the spirit of the alliance between the Philippines and the US.
“Balikatan 22 coincides with the 75th anniversary of US-Philippine security cooperation and a shared commitment to promoting peace. Our alliance remains a key source of strength and stability in the Indo-Pacific region,” Bargeron added.