US contingent for Balikatan exercises arriving today
Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) - March 27, 2016 - 10:00am

MANILA, Philippines – American troops joining the Balikatan joint military drills are expected to start arriving in the Philippines today as their Filipino counterparts kick off planning exercises designed to boost their ability to handle emergency situations.

US troops and equipment would arrive through northern Luzon, according to Capt. Frank Sayson, Philippine spokesman for this year’s Balikatan exercises. He, however, declined to provide specifics for security reasons.

“Based on the plan, the mobilization of the American troops and the offloading of their equipment for Balikatan 2016 will start on March 28. We are following a timeline and they should be here by tomorrow and the following weeks,” Sayson said yesterday.

Balikatan 2016, a major event that highlights the longstanding alliance of the Philippines and the US, will be held from April 4 to 15.

The exercises, however, had a soft opening last March 16 with the launching of construction and medical activities in Panay and Palawan, the province nearest the South China Sea.

The exercises would be held amid concerns over China’s aggressive actions in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), a busy sealane where about $5 trillion worth of trade passes through annually. Organizers of the exercise, however, insist that the conduct of drills has nothing to do with the maritime dispute.

Military drills aimed at improving the interoperability of Filipino and American troops will be held in Crow Valley in Tarlac, Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, Clark Field in Pampanga, Subic Bay in Zambales and in Palawan.

Officials said the exercises would focus on maritime law enforcement and disaster response efforts.

The Philippines and the US are also expected to kick off today planning exercises for emergency situations including a magnitude 6.5 earthquake in Metro Manila.

Sayson said the command post exercises would be held simultaneously at the Philippine military’s main headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City and the US Pacific Command headquarters. The exercises will be held until March 31.

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