By Martin Sadongdong
Amid President Duterte’s planned abrogation of the Visiting Forces of Agreement (VFA), the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) looks to further strengthen its the military ties with the US.
The Philippine Army is currently hosting the first iteration of its counter-terrorism training with the United States Army dubbed as Balance Piston 20-1 from January 26 to February 23.
Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zagala, Army spokesperson, said the Balance Piston 20-1 is one of the annual training exchanges between the two countries.
Participants include personnel from the US Army’s 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) and the Philippine Army’s 18th Special Forces Company, Special Forces Regiment (Airborne).
The training is being held at the Philippine National Police Maritime Group Training Facility in Puerto Princesa, Palawan and at the headquarters of the 18th Special Forces Company in Rizal, Palawan.
Zagala said the Balance Piston training exercise aims to “strengthen the counter-terrorism capabilities” of the Army and “enhance” its interoperability with American counterparts.
“The Philippine Army [continues] to support and conduct trainings with its foreign counterparts as it helps ensure that our troops get necessary exercise to enhance their capabilities in various field,” Zagala said.
“It also helps develop and strengthen our cooperation with other armies in training and information exchange,” he added.
The training happened amid Duterte’s threat more than a week ago to scrap the 21-year-old military pact with the US.
Established on February 10, 1998, the VFA exempts US military personnel from passport and visa regulations upon entering and departing the Philippines. It came into force the following year.
It is regarded as among the foundations of the Philippines and US military trainings with the two countries’ over 70 years shared history of strategic alliance.
But Duterte warned to throw it all away if America fails to “correct” the cancellation of the US visa of close political ally and long-time friend, Senator Ronald dela Rosa, reportedly due to allegations of human rights violations.
Prior to being a lawmaker, Dela Rosa was the chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP) in 2016 when it spearheaded the anti-drug campaign Oplan Tokhang that was blamed for the death of thousands of drug suspects.
Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo earlier said the process to terminate the VFA has already started.