AFP chief: Balikatan reflects commitment to defend territorial integrity
Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) - May 16, 2014 - 5:16pm

MANILA, Philippines - This year’s Balikatan military exercise between the Philippines and the United States (US) ended Friday with officials claiming that the drills reflected the commitment of the two countries to protect their sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Armed Forces chief Gen. Emmanuel Bautista said the bilateral exercise had shown that the only way to overcome current security challenges is for everyone to stand shoulder-to-shoulder.

“The exercises emphasized that as friends and allies, the Philippines and the United States will act in our collective capacity to safeguard international peace and security, and to ensure that territorial integrity and sovereignty are respected,” Bautista said during the Balikatan 2014 closing rites in Camp Aguinaldo.

“Through the exercises that we conducted, the Philippines and the United States jointly developed a platform for regional engagement, enhanced our military capabilities, learned from each other and advanced interoperability and capacity in joint planning execution,” he added.

Bautista made the remarks amid the simmering tensions in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), which was further fueled by China’s ongoing relocation in Mabini (Johnson) Reef off Palawan.

Defense officials said they have been observing Chinese movement in the reef since February but could not say what structures are being built.

Previous reports, however, state that China is building an airstrip in the area, which is well within the Philippines’ continental shelf.

The Philippines has filed a protest against the reclamation but China ignored it and insisted that it has sovereignty over the area.

Officials have claimed that the Balikatan exercises, which started last May 5, has nothing to do with the West Philippine Sea territorial row.

Bautista, nevertheless, said the exercise proved the “enduring alliance” between the Philippines and the United States, which he described as “a pillar for peace in Southeast Asia and the greater Asia Pacific.”

“May we seek for more ways to strengthen this alliance and ensure that it remains relevant, responsive and modernized,” he said.

US Deputy Chief of Mission Bryan Goldbeck said the drills would also enable the troops to respond to disasters like typhoon “Yolanda,” which left more than 6,000 persons dead last November.

“Hopefully you wont have to respond to another disaster on the scale of typhoon Yolanda but if, god forbid, it comes to that, now you know that regardless of the uniform they wear, the man or woman standing shoulder to shoulder with you is a friend and an ally,” Goldbeck said.

Over 3,000 Filipino and 2,500 American soldiers joined Balikatan 2014, which focused on maritime security and humanitarian response. 

Staff exercises that centered on crisis action planning were held at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City and at the Armed Forces Western Command headquarters in Puerto Princesa, Palawan.

Field trainings were held in San Antonio in Zambales, Ternate in Cavite and Crow Valley in Tarlac.

Humanitarian activities like the building and renovating of classrooms and health centers and the giving of medical and veterinary services were also conducted in the Bicol region.  

“We look forward to more joint bilateral military exercises and undertakings that will help the AFP in coping with our ever evolving security environment and achieve our goal of a minimum credible defense system,” Balikatan 2014 spokesperson Lt. Annaleah Cazcarro said. – (with a report from Ronald Mendoza)

ANNALEAH CAZCARRO ARMED FORCES ARMED FORCES WESTERN COMMAND ASIA PACIFIC BALIKATAN BAUTISTA CAMP AGUINALDO CAVITE AND CROW VALLEY PHILIPPINES AND THE UNITED STATES WEST PHILIPPINE SEA
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