US, PH to return to military drills

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THE annual “Balikatan” military exercises between the Philippines and the United States will be back in full scale in 2022.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Gen. Jose Faustino Jr. on Thursday, October 14, made the announcement after the 2021 Mutual Defense Board and Security Engagement Board (MDB-SEB) meeting in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.

“Yes, the relationship between our two Armed Forces, especially now that for this MDB-SEB activity, we have lined up number of activities that will further strengthen the bilateral relationship between our two militaries and as mentioned, we will go full scale Balikatan next year,” he said.

In 2020, the joint military drills were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In this year’s Balikatan exercise, the number of activities and participants held from April 12 to 23 was scaled down to adhere to health and safety protocols.

U.S. Indo-Pacific Command chief John Aquilino, who led the 2021 MDB-SEB meeting with Faustino, likewise said that next year’s joint exercises will return to a “full-scale” level.

“We value the capabilities, capacity, expertise that our Philippine counterparts bring but it is strengthened by our increased operations and exercises together. Gen Faustino has the lead for the next ‘Balikatan,’ I believe we will look to renew and get back to a full scale event and we will both look for opportunities to increase the complexity, the scope all the way to look towards new partners participating in the future,” said Aquilino.

The MDB-SEB meeting ended with the two allies agreeing to hold more than 300 military projects for 2021.

Faustino, for his part, said that he was “optimistic” that the relationship between the Philippines and the U.S. will be further strengthened.

“We were privileged to witness the advancing level of cooperation, and communication that both the Philippines and United States impart through the successful MDB-SEB meeting,” he said.

“I am optimistic that our alliance will continue to be robust in view of new and emerging security challenges that confront our nations. After all, we share the same goal of keeping peace and stability in this region,” he added.

The MDB was established in 1958, while the SEB was founded in 2006. The two boards form the annual MDB-SEB meeting, which plans the framework for defense and security cooperation between the U.S. and Philippine militaries. n

Ritchel Mendiola

Ritchel Mendiola is a staff writer and reporter for the Asian Journal. You can reach her at ritchel.mendiola@asianjournalinc.com.

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