“Because of the attendant activities, a total 10,875 troops – 6,229 from the US, 4,302 Filipinos and 44 from Australia – will be participating in the joint military drill,” AFP spokesman Brig. Gen. Edgard Arevalo said.
Boy Santos/ File
Balikatan exercises to push through in May
Jaime Laude (The Philippine Star) - March 5, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Despite President Duterte’s termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), this year’s joint Philippine-US Balikatan exercises involving more than 10,000 American and Filipino troops will push through as scheduled, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said yesterday.

Set in May, the joint military drills – likely to be the biggest to be held in the country – will take place within the 180-day period allowed before the VFA abrogation formally takes effect.

Duterte ordered the scrapping of the VFA on Feb. 11.

“Because of the attendant activities, a total 10,875 troops – 6,229 from the US, 4,302 Filipinos and 44 from Australia – will be participating in the joint military drill,” AFP spokesman Brig. Gen. Edgard Arevalo said.

He added all other joint Phl-US military training within the 180-day period will proceed as scheduled.

He stressed joint drills can be launched in the future even after the formal abrogation of the VFA just as the two militaries had been doing prior to the signing of the defense deal two decades ago.

“We had previous activities before we have this VFA,” Arevalo said, referring to joint military activities allowed under the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT).

With VFA, US soldiers were not required to secure visa or pay duties or taxes for military equipment brought into the country.

The VFA also allowed the US government to have jurisdiction over criminal cases committed by its service members in the country.

“They got all these three privileges under VFA but once the agreement is officially withdrawn, they will no longer be applicable to future military drills. So it’s up to them,” Arevalo said.

Meanwhile, a US aircraft carrier that used to dock in the country to replenish after sailing in the South China Sea is set to drop anchor in Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam today.

USS George Washington’s visit to Vietnam was the second by a US carrier. The first time a US aircraft carrier visited Vietnam after the restoration of US ties with a former enemy was in 2018, by USS Carl Vinson.

A security official said USS George Washington’s visit to Vietnam is a clear sign that the US military is now looking at an alternative ally in the region in response to the Philippines’ pivot to China.

“This development can be interpreted in so many ways, but one thing here is clear, the US is now in search for an ally in support of its sustained ongoing Freedom of Navigation (FONOPs) and overflights in the South China Sea,” the security official, who asked not to be named, said.

Of all the Spratlys’ claimant states, Vietnam is the sole country that openly opposed China’s massive occupation and militarization in the South China Sea.

EDGARD AREVALO VISITING FORCES AGREEMENT
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