CAMP EMILIO AGUINALDO, Philippines --
Senior military leaders from the Armed Forces of the Philippines and U.S., together with government officials, announced the opening of exercise Balikatan 2014, here, May 5, one week after U.S. President Barack Obama visited the Philippines and reaffirmed the “ironclad” alliance between the two nations.
Balikatan, which translates to “shoulder-to-shoulder” in Filipino, is an annual bilateral exercise between the AFP and the U.S. military focusing on the Philippine-U.S. partnership, cooperation and commitment to their Mutual Defense Treaty.
“The skills that we'll learn, practice and hone shoulder-to-shoulder in Balikatan in the next two weeks will not only make our two nations more capable, but also allow us to assist each other, as well as other nations, should the need arise,” said U.S. Marine Col. John A. Rutherford, officer-in-charge of the BK14 Joint Exercise Support Group, in his opening remarks. “I encourage everyone to take advantage of this time here in Balikatan. Work hard, but most importantly, learn from your brothers and forge stronger and closer bonds. The interoperability and friendships you build here will serve us well the next time we respond to the call.”
Approximately 2,500 U.S. and 3,000 AFP personnel will take part in the exercise, which consists of a series of humanitarian civic assistance projects, a scenario-based staff planning exercise focusing on maritime security, and interoperability field training exercises throughout the island of Luzon.
This year, the Australian Defence Force will also play a supporting role in BK14 from participating in HCA activities and FTX to providing maritime security mentorship and aviation surveillance capabilities.
As with past Balikatan exercises, the AFP and U.S. military will conduct medical, dental, veterinary and engineering civic action projects—throughout Legazpi City—in order to improve Philippine-U.S. civic assistance interoperability. A team of approximately 15 U.S. medical professionals will also travel to Tacloban, the city largely affected by Super Typhoon Yolanda last year.
“More than just a joint military program that aims to enhance our combat readiness, this Balikatan exercise has continued to evolve into an activity that surpasses its original intent,” said Philippine Air Force Maj. Gen. Emeraldo Magnaye, AFP exercise director. “To this date, Balikatan reflects the enduring commitment of both countries armed forces to promote regional peace and security by ensuring interoperability and readiness of both forces.”
With the signing of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement on April 28, the Philippines and U.S. pledged to continue strengthening an already robust military alliance and further build up capabilities.
“Exercise Balikatan is a prime example of the benefits that mutual security cooperation can bring to both our countries, by strengthening our armed forces, improving communities and developing relationships,” said U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg. “The successful response to typhoon Yolanda began with exercises like this one. Regular bilateral training and operations develop strong bonds and effective teamwork, which enable rapid and effective action in times of crisis.”
Also in attendance at the opening ceremony were the honorable Secretary of Foreign Affairs Albert F. del Rosario, the honorable Secretary of National Defense Voltaire Gazmin and chief of staff of the AFP Emmanuel T. Bautista.