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Balikatan 2014 happens this month

The Philippines and the United States (US) have officially started their annual joint Balikatan military exercises May 5, to improve the two countries’ military capabilities.

Balikatan exercises

Filipino soldiers participate in the Balikatan exercises in this 2013 file photo. AFP Chief Gen. Emmanuel Bautista said Balikatan 2014 focuses on maritime and humanitarian responses. (Photo from Balikatan Exercises Facebook page)

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief Gen. Emmanuel Bautista said the Balikatan 2014 focuses on addressing “non-traditional threats,” including the challenge of climate change.

Bautista, speaking in a televised event in Camp Crame, Quezon City, admitted that natural disasters are serious problem that government should address by intensifying its military capabilities.

He said the climate change became more evident following the destruction brought by super typhoon “Yolanda” in the country in November 2013, destroying major areas in Visayas that resulted in property damages worth billions of pesos and the death of more than 6,000 people.

“The challenge of climate change is no longer in doubt. Now, as we are increasingly (and) likely to experience more natural disasters like Yolanda, through Balikatan, we will train together to strengthen our mutual capabilities for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief,” Bautista said.

This year’s Balikatan exercises will also enhance the two allies’ maritime security, amid the increasing tensions between the Philippines and China over territorial row.

Beijing and Manila are locked in a dispute over West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), which China asserts rights on the majority, overlapping other claims of Philippines, Malaysia, and other Asian neighbors.

The territorial row intensified in recent months following China’s military move in the area, trying to block AFP’s resupply and rotational operation in Second Thomas Shoal.

Bautista said they will conduct several military exercise to promote regional engagement, enhance AFP’s interoperability, and to develop military capabilities to improve Philippines’ capacity in joint planning and execution.

The military exercises started a week after the two allies sealed the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) to increase the presence of U.S. troops in the Philippines, which was signed by both parties during the state visit of U.S. President Barack Obama in Manila on April 29.

“Let us once again work shoulder-to-shoulder for the success of the Balikatan exercise 2014. May we assure that our alliance remains responsive and modernize to address the challenges of the 21st century, to maintain stability in Southeast Asia and in greater Asia Pacific,” he said.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, and US Ambassador Philip Goldberg also attended the launch of Balikatan 2014, which is expected to be participated by around 3,000 AFP soldiers and 2,500 U.S. troops.

The 30th PH-US military exercises, which will take place in several military camps in the Philippines, will end on May 16, Friday.