PHL-US military drill Balikatan ‘very successful,’ bigger games mulled for 2024

By Jeanne Michael Penaranda

CAMP AGUINALDO, Quezon City – This year’s  just concluded “Balikatan” joint military exercises between the Philippines and the United States was “very successful” with a number of firsts, according to Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff Gen. Andres Centino.

Centino said the “Balikatan,” the biggest after almost 40 years with almost 18,000 troops and lasted three weeks, was also the first with new activities in multiple venues that included Ilocos Norte, Palawan, Zambales and Nueva Ecija.

President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. also witnessed the sinking of “enemy” ship several miles off Zambales together with other Philippine and US officials.

With the success, Centino hinted that next year’s war drills may even be bigger than this year with more soldiers and powerful live fire drills using modern equipment and military assets like missiles.

“We had a very successful Balikatan this year, nasabi ko nga kanina a lot of firsts, maraming mga bagong activities that we included sa halos na three weeks nating exercise. First time din na nagkaroon tayo ng multiple venues, napakaraming lugar na kung saan tayo nagconduct ng ating exercise and after this. Pagkatapos nito will be another preparation — it’s a whole year preparation actually and right after this makikita natin what needs to be improved or refined. We will continue planning again for next year,” Centino said during the closing ceremonies.

Centino said the just concluded Balikanta consisted of 17,767 participants — 12,187 Americans; 5, 469 Filipinos; and 111 Australians.

“Kung makita natin there is a need na talagang dagdagan natin, and of course it would be better na magkaroon tayo ng chance to train with other armies also, mga friends and allies natin (If we see there is a need to add people, it will be better if we have a chance to train with other armies of our friends and allies),” the AFP chief added.

The Department of National Defense (DND) said the “resounding success” showed the enhanced interoperability between Filipino and American troops.

“Exercise Balikatan effectively enhanced interoperability and participating troops’ capabilities, demonstrated undertakings for the defense of the Philippines’ sovereign territory, and assured the protection of peace, stability, and security in the Indo-Pacific region,” DND Officer-in-Charge Senior Undersecretary Carlito Galvez Jr. said in a statement.

US Exercise Director Lt. Gen. William Jurney of the Marine Corps thanked the Philippines for its hospitality and support, noting that hosting such complex activity involved a lot of work.

“On behalf of all of your visitors, I thank you for inviting us to join you on your bases, on your training ranges, on your seas and your skies, and in your communities,” he said.

Centino said this year’s “Balikatan” showed the need for better coordination, noting some delays in this aspect, even as he said this was “tolerable.”

He likewise saw a need to find new locations for the joint exercises.

The AFP chief said the “Balikatan” exercises would also help greatly in resolving internal security issues, noting live fire and similar exercises are “very relevant” in their efforts to improve their capabilities.

Maj. Gen. Marvin Licudine, Philippine Exercise Director, said objectives were achieved with excellence.

“The exercises also focused on improving the AFP’s capabilities in maritime security and domain awareness. We were also able to test newly acquired equipment and weapons systems under the AFP’s Modernization Program,” Licudine said.