Balikatan exercises canceled amid COVID-19 concerns

Patricia Lourdes Viray - Philstar.com
Balikatan exercises canceled amid COVID-19 concerns
In this April 5, 2019 photo, US Marines with 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment currently attached to 4th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, hike with Philippine Marines on their way to conduct room clearing drills during Exercise Balikatan at the Navy Education Training Command in Zambales.
US Marine Corps / Lance Cpl. Christian Ayers

MANILA, Philippines — This year's joint Philippine-US Balikatan exercises will no longer push through due to concerns on the new coronavirus pandemic.

The US Indo-Pacific Command, which operates in the western Pacific, announced that the joint exercises scheduled from May 4 to 15 in the Philippines will be canceled.

Balikatan exercises is an annual exercise between the Philippines and the US, which also involves participation from Australia.

Military spokesman Brig. Gen. Edgard Arevalo earlier said a total of 10,875 troops – 6,229 from the US, 4,302 Filipinos and 44 from Australia – would be participating in the joint exercise.

The US side cited concerns for the health and safety of the participating exercise forces, as well as local communities near areas planned for the military drills.

"In light of the extraordinary circumstances surrounding COVID-19 pandemic and in the best interest of the health and safety of both countries' forces, it is prudent to cancel Balikatan 2020," Adm. Phil Davidson, US Indo-Pacific Command commander, said.

The cancellation of the joint military exercise will be in accordance with international travel restrictions implemented by both the Philippines and the US in response to the virus outbreak.

Davidson, however, said that the US remains "deeply committed" to the long-standing alliance and frienship of the two countrues.

In February, President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement of the US, the legal framework of the presence of American troops in the country.

The president's directive earlier came as a threat to the US government following the cancellation of Sen. Bato dela Rosa's visa.

Malacañang confirmed on February 11 that Duterte directed Executive Salvador Medialdea to tell Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. to send the notice of termination to the US.

Under the VFA, the agreement will still be in force for 180 days upon the receipt of the notice of termination.

Despite the withdrawal of the VFA, the military said joint drills can still be launched in the future.

“We had previous activities before we have this VFA,” Arevalo earlier said, referring to joint military activities under the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty. — with report from Jaime Laude




As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: July 30, 2021 - 10:46am

President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement, which will expire 180 days after the notice of termination is sent to the US.

That notice was sent on Tuesday, February 11, 2020, according to Philippine government officials.

Duterte had previously warned the United States that he will terminate the VFA if the cancellation of Sen. Ronald Dela Rosa's US visa—believed but not confirmed to have been over the continued detention of Sen. Leila De Lima and the government's "war on drugs"—is not "corrected".

The decision to terminate comes amid a resolution by the Senate recognizing the president's authority to terminate agreements and treaties but also asking him to hold off on the decision while lawmakers conduct a review of the VFA and other agreements with America.

Activist groups have been calling on the government to scrap the deal since 1999, saying the Visiting Forces Agreement favors the US, keeps the Philippine military dependent on assistance and aid, and puts the Philippines at risk from America's enemies.

Main photo: In this May 19, 2018 file photo, Lt. Gen. Emmanuel Salamat and US Brig. Gen. Thomas Weidley lead the ceremonial furling of the Balikatan flag during the closing ceremony of the Philippine-US military exercises. The STAR/Boy Santos

July 30, 2021 - 10:46am

The Visiting Forces Agreement with the US, which President Rodrigo Duterte decided in February 2020 would be scrapped, will no longer be abrogated, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana says.

Lorenzana says Duterte decided to revoke the termination of the agreement after a meeting with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Thursday night. — Bella Perez-Rubio

June 14, 2021 - 7:40pm

President Rodrigo Duterte extends the suspension of the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States for another six months, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. says.

"The president conveyed to us his decision to extend the suspension of the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement by another six months while he studies and both sides further address his concerns regarding particular aspects for the agreement," Locsin says in a video posted on social media.

April 12, 2021 - 3:50pm

The Armed Forces of the Philippines and the US military open the 36th Balikatan Exercise, which features military simulations made possible by the Visiting Forces Agreement.

The Balikatan comes after the termination of the VFA was suspended for a second six-month period and as tensions with China rise over its ships in the West Philippine Sea.



February 16, 2021 - 10:43am

Sen. Panfilo Lacson reminds President Rodrigo Duterte that under the Constitution, a senator also has something to do with international agreements.

The president earlier told Lacson that he has nothing to do with the issue of the Visiting Forces agreement between the Philippines and the United States.

"Even an ordinary citizen of this country who feels embarrassed by his harsh, undiplomatic remarks concerning an existing bilateral agreement is guaranteed under the same Constitution to express his views. Not anyone, even he as President can curtail that basic right," Lacson says.

December 9, 2020 - 12:39pm

The US defense department has boostedthe Armed Forces of the Philippines' counter-terrorism capability with new equipment, the US Embassy in Manila says.

The capability upgrade is among the P1.4-billion ($29.3 million) in defense articles recently transferred to the AFP, Acting US Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller tells senior Philippine military officials as he met with Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. Tuesday in Manila.

In a statement provided by the US Embassy, Miller stresses the importance of the US-Philippine alliance to national and regional security.

Miller says the defense articles that were turned over last December 2 were transferred to several special mission units of the AFP to support its modernization goals.

The Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) lauded the capability, especially the anti-Improvised Explosive Device equipment, which will form part of force protection noting that in the recent campaign troops have engaged terrorists rigging IEDs in its attacks.  — The STAR/Roel Pareño

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