Philippines, US launch scaled-down military exercises

US PH launch first Balikatan under Duterte admin

Philippine Air Force honor guards and their American Marine counterparts perform the parade of colors at the opening ceremony of the 2017 Balikatan military exercises at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City.

"We will be having small arms military-to-military activities and some joint special operations activities which are really aligned with counterterrorism", he said.

After this year's launch, the joint military exercise will move to the country's different naval stations in Luzon and the Visayas, including those in Panay, Leyte, Palawan and Samar.

They will involve 2,600 American soldiers and 2,800 Filipino troops compared to a total of 12,000 in the 2015 edition of Balikatan.

Although an global tribunal ruled largely in favor of the Philippines previous year - a ruling that China ignored - Duterte has shelved the dispute in favor of currying economic favor with Beijing.

This year the exercises will focus only on counter-terrorism and disaster relief, the heads of the Philippine and United States delegations said at the opening ceremony.

Mr Prashanth Parameswaran, a security and foreign policy expert at Tufts University, said it is "still early days, with new leaderships on both sides, and things could change further down the line in Manila's ties with the major powers as they have often done in the past".

Opening rites for the "Balikatan" or "Shoulder-to-Shoulder" exercises were led by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and U.S. Ambassador Sung Kim at the Philippine military's headquarters in metropolitan Manila.

"The continuing conduct of this important exercise can be regarded as a testimony to a much anticipated, fruitful relationship.", he said.

Philippines suffered two major disasters in 2013 for which U.S. forces contributed to the relief efforts.

This year's exercises will be based on a scenario of troops responding to a major storm hitting the eastern Philippines, then cutting across the heavily-populated areas of the country, including the capital, Manila.

Nicholson, in the same press briefing, said that anytime they get a chance to work with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is a privilege for them.

"We're looking forward to a very productive 33rd Balikatan Exercises and this year's themes were discussed and will touch on the humanitarian and disaster relief and counterterrorism".

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