The Philippine military has confirmed it will hold annual exercises with US troops next month, despite frequent threats by President Duterte to cancel them.
The 10-day exercises, known as Balikatan (Shoulder-to-Shoulder), will go ahead in May, an focus on counter-terrorism and disaster response as the fight against Abu Sayyaf and other Islamic militants continues.
“It will be scenario-based like (preparing for) a big storm hitting the Philippines or the possibility of terrorism,” army spokesman Major Celeste Frank Sayson said.
“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 manoeuvres to simulations of protecting or retaking territory, amid disputes with Beijing over islands in the South China Sea.
Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana had said the exercises would return to their former focus on fighting terrorism, which he described as the country’s top security problem.
As we reported last week, security forces clashed with Abu Sayyaf militants on the tourist island of Bohol.