The military of the Philippines announced this week that the annual “Balikatan” military exercise with the United States will take place. There have been questions over whether the exercises will continue due to President Rodrigo Duerte, who has been critical of the US and wants to distance himself from the American government while courting the Chinese.
Although Manilla and Washington have been allies for over 70 years, Duerte has called for the end of the drill and for the withdrawal of all US troops.
The annual military exercises, known as Balikatan (Shoulder-to-Shoulder), will now go ahead in May, focusing on counter-terrorism and disaster response as the Philippines battles Islamic militants in their lawless southern strongholds.
“It will be scenario-based like (preparing for) a big storm hitting the Philippines or the possibility of terrorism,” Balikatan spokesman Major Celeste Frank Sayson told AFP.
“We are safe to say there will be no more live-fire exercises. We (will) focus on humanitarian and civil assistance.”
In previous years Balikatan had evolved from counter-terrorism maneuvers against Islamic militants to simulations of protecting or retaking territory, as a dispute with Beijing over islands in the South China Sea escalated.
With terrorism, still, a concern for the country, Philippines Defense Minister Delfin Lorenzana has said that terrorism will be one of the focuses of the drill this year.
The Filipino military continues to battle Islamic militants, who have pledged allegiance to the ISIS terrorists in Iraq and Syria as well as pirates in the southern part of the country where the fighting has been the heaviest.
Last week the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group clashed with Filipino security forces on a popular resort island, the first attack on a key Philippine tourist destination in recent years. Abu Sayyaf which roughly translates to “Father of the Sword”, is a Jihadist terror group that has been active for 40 years. They’ve been involved with bombings, executions, and kidnap-for-ransom.
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Photo courtesy AFP