10 May, 2017
From the previous war games geared towards maritime security and territorial defense, this year's Balikatan shifts to disaster preparedness and fighting terrorism.
Only two of the military's unified commands will participate in this year's Balikatan or joint military exercises with American troops from May 8 to 19.
Maj. Celeste Sayson, said, the Balikatan exercise will feature only 5,400 troops from both sides, or 5,600 personnel less compared to last year's activity, owing to its refocusing to humanitarian assistance, disaster response (HADR) and counterterrorism.
Last year, more than 10,000 participants joined the military exercise, which for years included live-fire exercises and amphibious landing exercises.
MANILA-Despite the lack of offensive military exercises in this year's "Balikatan" manuevers, participating United States troops are still looking forward to training with their Filipino counterparts. Duterte has taken a softer stance than his predecessor on the territorial disputes with China. "I'm very confident that our cooperation and collaboration and our exercises will continue to progress for many, many years and decades". "They are important topics that affect all the nations in the region, and so we are looking forward to a great couple of weeks", Nicholson said.
Balikatan or "shoulder-to-shoulder" is a comprehensive joint military exercise between the USA and its treaty ally, the Philippines.
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"Moving a force in a country like the Philippines ... those are skills that are pertinent to any type of military operation", Nicholson said.
The changes were as instructed by Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte who has had an antagonistic stance toward the U.S. security policies while expanding security ties with China and Russian Federation.
Soldiers from Japan and Australia are also taking part in the exercise, he said.
He said that based on the guidance coming from Philippine political leaders, the focus of this year's drills should be humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and counterterrorism.
Philippine Army Lt. Gen. Oscar Lactao and III Marine Expeditionary Force commander Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson, the exercise's directors, gave upbeat answers to reporters' questions about the drills.
Nicholson, in the same press briefing, said that anytime they get a chance to work with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is a privilege for them.