The Philippines and the United States launched the most comprehensive cooperative military operations in decades in the Southeast Asian country on Tuesday, sparking complaints that it is escalating tensions rather than promoting peace and stability.
According to the Philippine military, the 18-day annual exercise known as ‘Balikatan’ features 5,400 Philippine and 12,200 American troops, making it the largest iteration of joint manoeuvres between the two countries in decades, according to Xinhua news agency.
Over 100 Australian military personnel participate in the drills, while a dozen countries, including Japan and the United Kingdom, serve as observers.
From April 11 to 28, Balikatan 2023 will be conducted in numerous locations, including northern Luzon island, Palawan province, Batanes islands, and Zambales province.
The exercises will cover marine security, amphibious operations, live-fire training, cyber defence, counter-terrorism, humanitarian aid, and disaster relief planning.
The Philippines and the United States will deploy sophisticated weaponry systems such as a Patriot missile battery and High Mobility Artillery Rocket Weapons (HIMARS).
Hundreds of protestors, including members of the League of Filipino Students, staged a “lightning demonstration” about 5 a.m. on Tuesday, only hours before the Balikatan exercise officially began.
The students pushed the Filipino government to cancel the military treaties with the United States.
Protesters held signs and banners condemning the drills and asking Filipinos to reject them.
To protest the joint military training, several people flung “paint bombs,” defacing the seal of the US Embassy in Manila.
When the inaugural ceremony was taking place inside the main headquarters, another protest was conducted at the gate of a military camp.
Balikatan, which means “shoulder-to-shoulder” in Tagalog, is the most thorough of the regular Philippines-US joint military exercises.
The Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) provides a legal foundation for US soldiers to remain in the Southeast Asian country for bilateral military exercises and controls the behaviour of US armed forces personnel.