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
Balikatan exercises canceled amid COVID-19 concerns
Patricia Lourdes Viray ( - March 27, 2020 - 12:26pm

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: November 12, 2020 - 11:51am

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

November 12, 2020 - 11:51am

"We welcome the Government of the Philippines’ November 11 decision to suspend termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) for another six months," the US Embassy says in a statement to mdia.

"The U.S.-Philippines alliance remains vital to our robust, deep-rooted bilateral relationship. The United States will continue to partner closely with the Philippines to strengthen our mutual security ties."

November 11, 2020 - 3:08pm

The Philippines extends the suspension of the Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States for another six months.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. says President Rodrigo Duterte has decided to extend the VFA abrogation “to enable us to find a more enhanced, mutually beneficial, mutually agreeable, and more effective and lasting arrangement on how to move forward in our mutual defense.”

June 3, 2020 - 9:16am

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana says the Department of National Defense and the Armed Forces of the Philippines will consult with the Office of the Presidential Commission on Visiting Forces on issues that need to be addressed on the suspension of the abrogation of the VFA with the United States.

According to Lorenzana, the country's defense establishment is ready to continue working with the US on common concerns, including the COVID-19 pandemic.

"In times of crises and global uncertainty, it is our belief that nations are only made stronger if we work together and focus our efforts on tackling the various challenges that confront us all," Lorenzana says in a statement.

June 2, 2020 - 8:24pm

The Philippines has suspended the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement with the US "in light of political and other developments" in the region, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. says.

According to a diplomatic note that Locsin posted on his Twitter account, "the suspension shall start on even date and shall continue for six months" that the Philippines can extend for another six months.

The Philippines formally informed the US on February 11 that it is ending the VFA. Termination would have been effective 180 days from receipt of the notice.

March 5, 2020 - 1:34pm

The Alliance of Concerned Teachers is calling on the Senate to not get in the way of the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement with the US, saying a resolution that the chamber adopted shows "who among our top legislators remain to be partial to the US."

The Senate this week adopted a resolution asking the Supreme Court to rule on whether the concurrence of the Senate is needed in abrogating treaties, as it is in ratifying them.

The move "seems like a thinly veiled, last minute attempt to salvage [the Philippines'] unequal ties with US, and puts into question our senators' loyalty to the country over protecting foreign interests," ACT national chairperson Joselyn Martinez says in a release.

"Legitimizing the use of our territories and resources for US military purposes violates our sovereignty. So does allowing US soldiers' presence in our lands all-year round and letting them get away with several cases of grave human rights violations against our peoples," Martinez also says.

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