The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) announced on Sunday, April 11, that it will hold military exercises with its United States counterparts, even as tension remains high in the West Philippine Sea as China continues to assert its claims over almost the entire South China Sea.
Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, AFP Chief of Staff said the opening ceremonies will be held at the AFP General Headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City on Monday, April 12. It will not be opened to the public as part of safety precautions due to the prevailing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
“This will be different from previous Balikatan exercises because of the pandemic. Some portions of the exercises will be virtual but we also have minimal physical contact,” Sobejana said.
“There will also be actual field training exercises but not as big as those done in the previous years,” he added.
This year’s iteration of the joint military drills will last for two weeks with the participation of around 700 US soldiers and 1,100 Filipino soldiers, Sobejana bared.
The AFP Chief’s revelation came after Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana held a phone conference with US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III on Sunday.
The two defense chiefs discussed the continuation of the Balikatan exercises amid the increased aggression of China in the South China Sea.
Balikatan, which was part of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), was suspended last year due to the pandemic.