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Balikatan 2024 starts, drills deepen strategic alliance

By Priam Nepomuceno

In Manila, the annual three-week Exercise “Balikatan” kicked off officially on Monday, heralding a joint effort involving 16,000 soldiers from the Philippines and the United States, embodying unity, collective responsibility, and a lasting partnership.

During the opening ceremony at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City, General Romeo Brawner Jr., Chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), emphasized that the 39th edition of these drills isn’t merely a convenient collaboration but rather a profound testament to the shared history and steadfast dedication to democracy and international law. This alliance aims to foster peace and security across the Indo-Pacific Region.

He said the “Balikatan,” literally meaning shoulder to shoulder, stands as an evidence of the Philippines and America’s efforts to enhance the cooperation, dedication and mutual intentions that strengthen the interoperability of the two nations’ military forces.

“Through joint and combined operational settings, we have diligently worked to achieve our shared goals, as coastal nations the United States and the Philippines share the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean,” he added.

The AFP chief stressed that maritime cooperation is vital in addressing complex challenges that threaten peace and security in the region.

“Together alongside our like-minded partners we are fully committed to upholding a stable and prosperous Indo-Pacific. The ever-evolving nature of defense necessitates our adoption and transformation,” he added.

He said the Comprehensive Archipelagic Defense Concept would enhance the Philippines’ defense capabilities.

“Balikatan also represents an extraordinary opportunity for us to deepen our collaborations with friends, partners and allies,” Brawner said.

The exercises that will run until May 10 involve 11,000 Americans and 5,000 Filipinos.

Observers from Southeast Asia, United Kingdom, Canada, South Korea, India and Germany would also monitor the exercises.

“Their presence signifies the tremendous importance of friendliness crossing borders as we together strive to foster a free, open and internationally based order in the Indo-Pacific Region,” Brawner said.

Meanwhile, the Philippine National Police-Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) on Monday announced that 157 of its officers were deployed for the military drills.

“The SAF contingent will participate in a range of activities such as high-risk visit board search and seizure, dive operations, urban warfare, direct action ISO key maritime security operations, fast rope insertion and extraction system, special reconnaissance ISO high mobility artillery rocket system, military operations in urban terrain, friendship jump, civil-military operations-civil affairs, evaluator/supervisor, event planner/C2, and bilateral academic seminar,” SAF director Maj. Gen. Bernard Banac said in a statement. (with Lloyd Caliwan/PNA)

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