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35 years of the annual Balikatan Exercise



E CARTOON APR 5, 2019The  annual  Balikatan exercise between  Philippine and American armed forces began  last  Monday. It  is  the 35th time the exercise  is being held, with  4,000 Philippine and  3,500 American troops joined  this year by 50 members of the Australian Defense Force.

Five years after the Philippines achieved independence from American colonial  rule  in 1946, the two countries  signed a Mutual Defense Treaty in 1951.  Balikatan  began in 1985  to enhance  the two nations’ military organizations’  close relations  through joint exercises.  In 1992, the US closed down its bases in the Philippines,  but  the two countries  signed a Visiting Forces Agreement in  1998  governing the conduct  and protection of American troops visiting the  Philippines  and of Philippine  troops visiting the US.

Balikatan  has become the cornerstone of Philippine-American  military  relations, with Australia participating in the annual activity since 2014. This  year’s  exercise  includes the usual  land, amphibious, and aviation operations,  along with  humanitarian  and civic assistance activities – the building of classrooms and  clinics,  health consultations,   and holding of feeding programs for children.

At  the  opening ceremony Monday at Camp Aguinaldo  in Quezon City,  Brig. Gen. Christopher McPhillips,  exercise director for the US side,  said  Balikatan has become one of the premier  military training exercises in the Pacific and has helped maintain regional  stability. The Philippine exercise director,    Lt. Gen. Gilbert  Gapay,  said  Balikatan  enhances the ability of the two militaries to meet  any crisis that  may  threaten  the security of the nation.

 In the last two years, threats  to  national  and regional security have  come  largely from  Islamic  jihadist  efforts to establish a Southeast Asian center for the ISIS (Islamic  State of Iraq and Syria). Now that  ISIS  forces have been forced out of Syria,  they might step up their  efforts  for an  ISIS caliphate in this part of the world.

The South China Sea also has its potential conflict areas, with the US especially concerned that it should remain free and open to all shipping  and  air travel  under  the principle of freedom of navigation. For a while there was  great  hope that the nuclear  threat from North Korea was over, but  the recent Trump-Kim summit  in  Hanoi, Vietnam, failed to reach any final  peace  agreement.

It  is in this atmosphere of uncertainty that   the 35th Balikatan Exercise was launched last Monday. As in the past,  it  will serve to update  the participating  military forces on the latest in weaponry and operational practices.

Even more important, it should serve to reassure  our two nations that we continue to share  a common concern  for security in our part of the world  and a re                                         solve to strive together  in the face of challenges.

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