‘Balikatan’ on; AFP sees China shadowing drills

‘Balikatan’ on; AFP sees China shadowing drills

By: - Reporter /
/ 05:55 AM April 23, 2024

ALLIANCE Philippine military and United States officials lead the opening of the ceremony of this year’s “Balikatan” exercises at Camp Aguinaldo on Monday. Shown from left are Philippine exercise director Maj. Gen Marvin Licudine, AFP chief of staff Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr., US Embassy Charge d’affaires Robert Ewing, Marine Maj. Gen. Noel Beleran and US exercise director Lt. Gen. William Jurney. —LYN RILLON

ALLIANCE Philippine military and United States officials lead the opening of the ceremony of this year’s “Balikatan” exercises at Camp Aguinaldo on Monday. Shown from left are Philippine exercise director Maj. Gen Marvin Licudine, AFP chief of staff Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr., US Embassy Charge d’affaires Robert Ewing, Marine Maj. Gen. Noel Beleran and US exercise director Lt. Gen. William Jurney. LYN RILLON

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines and the United States kicked off on Monday one of their biggest “Balikatan” (shoulder-to-shoulder) joint military exercises, with officials expecting Beijing to make a certain presence as it increasingly asserts its maritime claims in the South China Sea.

For this year’s 39th iteration of the Balikatan drills, which will run until May 10, France is joining as a partner for the first time, sending its Floréal-class light frigate FS Vendémiaire (F734), which is currently docked in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan province. Australia is also participating as a partner in this year’s activities.

ADVERTISEMENT

READ: ‘Most expansive balikatan yet’ kicks off today

FEATURED STORIES

The annual military exercises also have observers from 13 countries, including Brunei, Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam.

Around 11,000 American forces and 6,000 Filipino soldiers are participating in this year’s Balikatan.

In his speech during the opening ceremonies, Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. emphasized that the exercises were mainly to enhance their capabilities and not a show of force aimed at another country.

“Let us not view this as a mere break from our daily routine but rather an occasion to learn from one another,” Brawner said.

Maj. Gen. Marvin Licudine, the Philippines’ exercise director, would not confirm the reported presence of two Chinese maritime militia ships just 56 kilometers (30 nautical miles) from the shores of Palawan, but said he expected that there would be a presence of Chinese vessels in the vicinity of where they would hold their exercises.

“Surely, I would say that we will expect [that] because they have been there since they have structures in these areas,” Licudine told reporters at a press briefing.

ADVERTISEMENT

The exercises would be going beyond the country’s territorial waters in the West Philippine Sea, he added.

“But it’s not really addressed to any aggressors,” Licudine clarified. “It’s more of the development of interoperability, our collective effort, protection of international law… and making sure that freedom of navigation in these areas go freely and not impeded by any other parties in the process,” he said.

Near flashpoints

The annual drills will be concentrated in the northern and western parts of the country, near the potential flashpoints of the South China Sea and Taiwan.

China claims almost the entire waterway, a key route for international trade, and also considers self-ruled Taiwan to be part of its territory.

In response to China’s growing assertiveness, the United States has been bolstering alliances with countries in the Asia-Pacific region, including the Philippines.

Washington and Manila are treaty allies and have deepened their defense cooperation since President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. took office in 2022.

While the Philippines is poorly armed, its proximity to the South China Sea and Taiwan would make it a key partner for the United States in the event of a conflict with China.

The Philippine Coast Guard will join Balikatan for the first time following several confrontations between its vessels and the China Coast Guard, which patrols reefs off the Philippines’ coast.

The joint drills involve a simulation of an armed recapture of an island in Palawan, the nearest major Philippine landmass to the hotly disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

The same exercise will be held in the northern provinces of Cagayan and Batanes, both less than 300 km from Taiwan.

China’s foreign ministry has accused the United States of “stoking military confrontation,” and warned the Philippines to “stop sliding down the wrong path.”

Provoking conflict

The Gabriela women’s party on Monday maintained that this year’s Balikatan exercises threaten regional stability and called on President Marcos to “prioritize addressing socioeconomic issues rather than escalating tensions” in the West Philippine sea.

According to House Assistant Minority Leader and Gabriela Rep. Arlene Brosas, “the prepositioning of missiles near contested waters and other strategic maneuvers demonstrate a calculated effort to assert dominance and provoke conflict in the region.”

For his part, former legislator and Bayan Muna executive vice president Carlos Isagani Zarate claimed that the Balikatan was placing the Philippines in a vulnerable position.

Meanwhile, another joint military drill in Mindanao that started on April 9, the Marine Exercises 2024 (Marex24) between the 1st Marine Brigade of the Philippine Marine Corps and the United States Marine Corps, concluded on Saturday with a community relations activity along a coastal village in Maguindanao del Norte.

Brig. Gen. Eric Macaambac, commander of the 1st Marine Brigade, said the activity was held at Mohammad Sinsuat Sr. Integrated School in Barangay Penansaran, Datu Blah Sinsuat, Maguindanao del Norte, and an integral part of Marex24.

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

Subscribe to our daily newsletter

By providing an email address. I agree to the and acknowledge that I have read the .

It included a range of services from medical and dental consultations, tooth extraction, ear cleaning, feeding and free haircut. —WITH REPORTS FROM JEANNETTE I. ANDRADE, RUSSEL LORETO, EDWIN O. FERNANDEZ, JULIE ALIPALA AND AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

EDITORS' PICK
MOST READ
newsinfo
newsinfo
cebudailynews
business
sports
entertainment
NEWSINFO
SPORTS
ENTERTAINMENT
ENTERTAINMENT
NEWSINFO
ENTERTAINMENT
TAGS: Balikatan

© Copyright 1997-2024 | All Rights Reserved

We use cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. By continuing, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. To find out more,