Manila: Joint military drills started between the forces of the United States and the Philippines Friday amid assurances from officials that the conduct of exercises has nothing to do with tensions in the Korean peninsula.
Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, in a speech he delivered at the start of the annual Balikatan (Shoulder-to-Shoulder) exercises in Camp Aguinaldo in suburban Quezon City, said the drills and other similar joint force readiness activities by the two countries, affirm the Philippines’ and the United States’ resolve to defend each other as treaty partners.
“The Balikatan exercises are powerful and living symbols of the long standing security relationship between the Philippines and the United States. These exercises breath life and meaning to our obligations as treaty partners,” said
Del Rosario said Balikatan “supports the development of Philippine defence capabilities as well as the inter-operability of Philippine and US military forces. The Balikatan’s 2013 edition focuses largely on humanitarian assistance and disaster response (HADR).
Some 8,000 US and Filipinos soldiers, including ships, combat and support aircraft as well as various types of vehicles, are taking part in the annual joint exercises---the biggest among several similar military cooperation activities by the two countries.
Earlier, the presidential palace allayed fears that the presence of considerable number of combat hardware would ruffle feathers in North Korea and cause backlash for the estimated 40,000 Filipino nationals working in South Korea.
“Primarily they are here for rest and recreation. They are here for re-supply,” Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said.
The exercises between the US and Filipino forces are conducted annually and had been scheduled far ahead of the developments taking place in North Korea.
On Thursday, North Korea gave its military the clearance to launch nuclear attacks on the United States. In response, the US said it is deploying anti-missile defence in Guam to counter North Korea’s posturing.
Meanwhile, Del Rosario had noted that in the past three months the Philippines and the US have had key high level exchanges and discussions centred on security relations.
“US congressional delegations led by the chairmen of the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Veterans Committee were in Manila. Defence Deputy Secretary Ashton Carter was also here. This week, I met with both Secretary of State John Kerry and Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel in Washington. In all these discussions, both sides reiterated their firm commitments as strategic partners and treaty allies,” he said.
Likewise he said that these key officials have pledged to work with the Philippines to build its capacity to defend itself.
Del Rosario emphasized that the Philippines, on its own, is pouring money to boost its defence capabilities. “The Philippines is investing in its own defence at levels never seen before,” he said.
Last December, President Benigno Aquino III signed the new Armed Forces of the Philippines Modernisation Act which allocated P75 billion for its first five years of implementation. The Aquino Administration has spent over P28 billion for the military modernisation programme. In comparison, the previous administrations had spent a total P33 billion for modernisation in the 15 years before Aquino’s term.