31st March 2023 – (Manila) Philippine troops have joined their US counterparts in a live-fire drill at the country’s largest military camp as part of annual army-to-army exercises aimed at enhancing Manila’s defence capabilities against external threats. More than 3,000 soldiers from both countries participated in the three-week long Salaknib exercises, which included anti-tank and small-arms live-fire exercises, as well as the firing of High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (Himars).
The exercises took place at Fort Magsaysay in Luzon, which is one of the five sites that the United States has access to under its Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with Manila. The US is permitted to use these bases for joint training, pre-positioning of equipment, and building of facilities such as runways, fuel storage, and military housing, but not to maintain a permanent presence.
“We are now transitioning from internal security operations to territorial defence operations,” said Philippine army training officer Lieutenant-Colonel Tara Cayton during a news conference.
The annual “Balikatan” exercises, set to take place at Fort Magsaysay next month, will see 17,600 participants from both sides, including around 12,000 from the United States. These exercises will be the biggest ever joint military drills between the two nations and highlight the improved ties with the Western power under President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr’s decision to expand the United States’ access to military bases in the Philippines in February has infuriated China. The country has accused Washington of stoking tensions in the region, particularly in the South China Sea where Beijing has been aggressively expanding its territorial claims.
The Philippine government has referred to China’s actions as “aggressive” and has strengthened ties with the US to enhance its defence capabilities against external threats. The joint military exercises between the two nations demonstrate their commitment to maintaining regional stability and security.
The annual Salaknib exercises are part of the army-to-army drills aimed at enhancing Manila’s defence capabilities. These drills have become even more crucial in the current geopolitical climate where China’s actions in the South China Sea have caused concern amongst its neighbours.
The US and the Philippines share a long-standing military alliance, and the EDCA signed in 2014 has further cemented their strategic partnership. The EDCA has allowed for greater US military presence in the Philippines, which has helped to boost the country’s defence capabilities and deter potential external threats.
The joint military exercises between the Philippines and the US serve as a reminder to China that its actions in the region will not go unnoticed. The exercises demonstrate the US’ commitment to maintaining regional stability and security, and to supporting its allies in the face of aggression.