About 5,000 American and Philippine troops will hold humanitarian exercises instead of war games, due to President Duterte’s dislike for his country’s longstanding defence alliance with the USA.
Troops taking part in “Balikatan” will simulate a response to a super typhoon, modelled on typhoon Haiyan in 2013, which killed at least 6,300 people and left more than 200,000 families homeless.
“Balikatan is designed to meet current challenges facing the Philippines,” US embassy press officer Molly Koscina said in a statement today (Monday, April 24).
Duterte makes no secret of his grudge against the United States and believes any military presence in the Philippines puts his country at risk of being dragged into conflict. He has threatened to rip-up treaties with Washington, but has yet to follow through.
At the same time, the president has reached out to Russia and China and invited their warships to come to the Philippines for exercises too.
Balikatan, which means “shoulder-to-shoulder”, has taken place on 32 occasions and every year since 2000, involving conventional warfare activities, as part of a mutual defence treaty between the two countries under a 1951 security pact.
Nearly 9,000 troops participated in a simulation of retaking an oil-and-gas platform last year and practised an amphibious landing.
A Philippine army spokesman said the downsizing of the exercises was in response to Duterte’s dislike of war games with Washington. “We made some adjustments, based on the pronouncements of the president that such exercises should be focused on humanitarian operations,” Major Frank Sayson said.
“Just to make it clear, this is not a war game.”
He added that the two armies would also work on marksmanship and defusing of homemade bombs, to boost counter-terrorism capabilities.