– 3 hours ago
MANILA, Philippines — The success of the just-concluded “Balikatan” exercise between the Philippines and the United States is a testament to the strength of the two countries’ alliance, US Ambassador MaryKay Carlson said on Friday.
“Balikatan is an incredible accomplishment,” the envoy said at a ceremony in the military’s Camp Aguinaldo headquarters closing the largest military exercise between the two treaty partners.
The weeklong Balikatan involved 17,767 participating troops, consisting of 12,187 Americans; 5,469 Filipinos; and 111 Australian “observers” who also trained together for the first time on the use of defensive missiles, like the Javelin and High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems.
Aside from the usual land, air and sea maneuvers, Carlson said the exercise also introduced “cyber and space element” in Balikatan, although they were not much heralded during the activity.
“These many firsts stamped the 38th Balikatan exercise as an unprecedented success,” said Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Gen. Andres Centino.
“Of course, it would be better if we get the chance to train with other armies of our friends and allies,” he added.
Centino said the military would soon start planning for next year’s edition of Balikatan and he was open to involving other allies.
He admitted there were “little hitches” in planning this year’s edition, particularly delays in choosing the locations for the joint exercises. But the delays were “tolerable and easy to fix.”
“The strong results of the exercise and the robust relationship like-minded allies are made more significant given the current security environment,” the AFP chief said.
The US envoy also recognized threats to “the current security environment.”
“In the past few years, we have seen more threats to the region than we have in the past few decades combined. These include challenges to the rules-based international order via provocations in the South China Sea,” Carlson said.
“The Philippines is our oldest treaty ally in East Asia and largest recipient of security assistance in East Asia, and the US-Philippine alliance plays an irreplaceable role in addressing these threats,” Carlson stressed.
“You can see that what happens in the Philippines is critical to what happens in the Indo-Pacific and the world,” she added only two days before President Marcos was to leave for an official visit to Washington.
Carlson noted that the military cooperation is just “one pillar” of “an evolving alliance” that also includes economic development through job-generating investments in different sectors all over the country.
“And of course, the Philippines and the United States share a special bond of friendship, which I am sure President Biden will reaffirm when he meets with Mr. Marcos in just a few days,” Carlson said, referring to the official state visit by the President to the US next week.
“The United States is the Philippines’ largest export market. American investments have also helped grow important sectors of the economy across Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao,” she added.