Philippines, US to begin 2 week joint military drill from Monday, boosts Cooperation

Philippines, US to begin two-week joint military drill from Monday. The announcement came after the two countries’ defence secretaries held a phone call to discuss the drills, the situation in the South China Sea, and recent regional security developments, learned citing wionews.

Philippines, US to begin two-week joint military drill

Philippine and US soldiers will conduct a two-week joint military exercise from Monday, resuming the annual training event after last year’s cancellation due to the pandemic, the Philippine military chief said on Sunday. 

The announcement came after the two countries’ defence secretaries held a phone call to discuss the drills, the situation in the South China Sea, and recent regional security developments. 

Unlike previous exercises, however, this year’s ‘Balikatan’ (Shoulder-to-Shoulder) drills to test the readiness of their militaries to respond to threats such natural disasters and militant extremist attacks, will be scaled down. 

Only 1,700 troops, 700 from the United States and 1,000 from the Philippines, will participate, unlike previous exercises, which involved as many as 7,600 soldiers, said Lieutenant General Cirilito Sobejana. 

“There will be physical contact but it is minimal,” he said. 

The Philippines has protested against the presence of the Chinese boats inside its 200-mile exclusive economic zone at Whitsun Reef in the strategic waterway, repeatedly asking China to move the vessels away.  

Chinese diplomats, however, have said the fishing boats were just sheltering from rough seas and no militia were aboard. 

Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, China and Vietnam have competing territorial claims in the South China Sea. 

In the phone call on Sunday between Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Austin also reiterated the importance of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the two countries, according to a statement issued by Lorenzana’s department. 

Lorenzana committed to discussing the matter with President Rodrigo Duterte. 

Duterte last year unilaterally cancelled the two-decade-old VFA in an angry response after an ally was denied a US visa. The agreement provides the legal framework under which US troops can operate on a rotational basis in the Philippines. 

The VFA withdrawal period, however, has been twice extended, creating what Philippine officials say is a window for better terms to be agreed.

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