Philippines, U.S. Start Exercise Balikatan 2016
CAMP EMILIO AGUINALDO, Philippines --
Exercise Balikatan 2016 opened here April 4 in a ceremony attended by government officials and senior U.S. and Philippine military leaders.
Balikatan, a Filipino term that means “shoulder-to-shoulder” is an annual bilateral exercise between Philippine and U.S. military forces that focuses on partnership, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief capabilities, Philippine capability development and military modernization.
“Balikatan brings our armed forces together in bilateral activity that will not only validate our procedures in joint military operations, but more importantly, will strengthen our longstanding camaraderie and friendship,” said Armed Forces of the Philippines Vice Adm. Alexander Lopez, Western Command commander and the exercise director for Philippine forces.
The Philippines and U.S. have been treaty allies and longstanding defense cooperation partners, dating back to their Mutual Defense Treaty of 1951.
“All of us being here today demonstrate an ironclad commitment to each other and our respective peoples,” said Marine Corps Lt. Gen. John Toolan, the commander of U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific and the exercise director for U.S. forces.
“Today, we truly stand side-by-side,” Toolan said.
Approximately 5,000 U.S., 3,500 Philippine and 80 Australian Defense Force personnel will take part in the 32nd iteration of the exercise. This year’s Balikatan will focus on three simultaneous events through one single scenario across the Philippine islands, Luzon, Palawan and Panay.
Balikatan focuses on training and enhancing the capabilities of the AFP, U.S. and Australian armed forces to provide relief and assistance in the event of natural disasters and other crises that could endanger the public’s health and safety,” Toolan said.
Officials said joint forces will be conducting humanitarian civic assistance projects to improve interoperability between the participating nations and improve the local community as well as a simulation-supported bilateral event, force integration training and an operational event at Crow Valley, Clark Air Base, Fort Magsaysay, Puerto Princesa in Palawan, Subic Bay, and Antique Bay in Panay.
“Balikatan represents our security alliance to the Philippines,” said Philip S. Goldberg, U.S. ambassador to the Philippines. “The skills learned at this exercise will serve both of our countries well, whatever challenges faced in the future.”