An advanced party from the US Armed Forces that will be joining the 2023 “Balikatan” exercises next month is scheduled to arrive in the Philippines today (March 20).
Col. Medel Aguilar, spokesperson of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), on Saturday said the guests would be working on various humanitarian civic assistance programs before the annual military exercises formally begin April 11.
“These would involve construction of facilities and cooperative health engagements as well as community relations programs that would be undertaken by the AFP and US Armed Forces across the Philippines,” Aguilar said in Filipino at a media forum over the weekend.
More than 17,000 personnel from the Philippines and the US will be joining this year’s Balikatan, the largest iteration of the annual joint military drills.
The exercises will be held from April 11 to 28 in various parts of the country, including Palawan, Batanes, and Zambales.
Both the AFP and the Australian Embassy earlier confirmed that around 100 members of the Australian Defense Force would be active participants.
“Australia is proud to return as an active participant in Exercise Balikatan 2023. This is a significant activity that offers the opportunity for the Australian Defense Force to continue to work closely with our partners, particularly the Philippines and the US,” the Australian Embassy in Manila said in a statement.
“In 2023, Australian participation will be our strongest yet — with approximately 100 personnel from conventional and special forces participating in multiple scenarios throughout the Philippines, this includes field training and live fire activities.”
Japan, meanwhile, will deploy observers.
Tokyo and Manila are still in talks over the proposed establishment of a Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA) or a Status of Forces Agreement which would pave the way for more enhanced training and exercises between the two nations.
AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Andres Centino led a Philippine delegation to the Defense and Security Equipment International in Tokyo, Japan on March 14 to 17.
He had an opportunity to discuss the RAA with Gen. Koji Yamazaki, chief of the Japan Self Defense Forces, as well as issues of mutual concern on maritime cooperation and defense, and capability development.
Col. Jorry Baclor, AFP public affairs chief, said in a statement that Yamazaki guaranteed Japan’s “friendship and assistance on common security issues together with other like-minded countries” for a rules-based international order in the West Philippines Sea and a “free and open” Indo-Pacific. Rey E. Requejo, PNA (See full story online at manilastandard.net)
Meanwhile, Indonesia’s Ambassador to the Philippines Agus Widjojo vowed that Jakarta would forge a stronger cooperation with Manila on border security.
Widjojo said it is crucial for the Philippines and Indonesia to review existing legal framework on border patrol and security and counter-terrorism cooperation as non-traditional threats and cross-border crimes persist.
“Observing that there are still non-traditional security threats in the southern Philippines which are still frequently used as routes for smuggling weapons, illegal goods, human trafficking and still at risk of becoming a backdoor crossing for foreign terrorist fighters, it is considered important to continue and renew some legal basis for defense and security cooperation of the two countries,” Widjojo told GMA News Online.
He acknowledged that securing the waterway between the two countries is a “challenge” as “people come in and out” of the border.
The Indonesian diplomat pointed out that effective coordination and collaboration between Philippine and Indonesian authorities at the border are needed.
Widjojo also sought to bolster the two countries’ trade and investments exchange, noting the huge potential for economic cooperation.
“There are lots of fields, a big potential for the two countries to develop but there are challenges,” Widjojo noted, citing trade imbalance on the part of Indonesia.