MANILA, Philippines — The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is open to the idea of converting the annual joint bilateral Balikatan military exercises between the Philippines and the US into a multilateral drill among allied countries.
“This year we saw Australia participate and we are welcomed to allow others, other friends and allies to participate,” military chief of staff Gen. Emmanuel Bautista said on Friday at the formal closure of the 30th edition of the annual war games in Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City.
Bautista pointed out that any interested allied countries should first seal a status of forces agreement with the Philippines, similar to the Philippine-Australia Status of Visiting Forces Agreement (SOVFA) and in the case of the US, the Philippine-US Visiting Forces Agreement and the Philippine-US Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), all ratified by the Philippine Senate.
“The only limitation [here] is the status of forces agreement. We need to have that, we have one with Australia and the United States,” the AFP chief said.
The SOVFA was ratified by the Senate on July 24, 2012; the VFA on May 27, 1999; and the MDT on August 30, 1951.
Bautista said with the recent signing of the enhanced defense cooperation agreement (Edca) by Manila and Washington, it is expected that the Balikatan (shoulder-to-shoulder) exercises would further improve but the size and shape would still be subject for discussion by the Mutual Defense Board.
Edca, he added, would facilitate the conduct of Balikatan and other activities under the MDT in terms of facilitating increased rotational presence of American forces and allow them as well to preposition equipment for activities, among others.
The Balikatan war games are based on the MDT and conducted every year to serve as a venue for joint and combined training of Philippine and US forces.
The 12-day joint military exercises formally ended on Friday in simple ceremonies at Camp Aguinaldo attended by top Philippine and US officials that included Bautista, Defense Undersecretary Honorio Azcueta, US Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission Bryan Goldbeck, Exercise Director for the Philippines Maj. Gen. Emeraldo Magnaye and his US counterpart, Maj. Gen. Richard Simcock 2nd.
Magnaye said this year’s Balikatan gained the highest number of participants from the AFP at 4,897 personnel, including 242 reservists from different units in Nueva Ecija, Pampanga, Palawan, Albay, Cebu and the cities of Taguig and Navotas (both in Metro Manila).
He added that this year’s edition recorded the least number of accidents.
Magnaye described the 2014 Balikatan as a “resounding success.”
Lt. Annaleah Cazcarro, co-director, Combined Joint Information Bureau, PH-US Balikatan Exercise 2014, said 2,500 American and 4,897 Filipino forces took part for 12 days in staff and field training exercises and humanitarian and civic assistance activities.
Th war games wound up on Thursday at the Crow Valley Gunnery Range in Capas, Tarlac, with live-fire exercises based on simulated realistic scenarios that included helicopter, mechanized and motorized raids; and group troop maneuvers.