MANILA "Balikatan" has now evolved to meet the challenges of the modern times.
This was emphasized by Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana during the opening ceremony of this year's Balikatan exercises held at Armed Forces of the Philippines Commissioned Officers' Club, Quezon City Monday.
"I witnessed first-hand the planning of the first Balikatan here in the Philippines in the early 80s. In fact, I was one of the planners there, I was a captain, and I think I was (and) I was also, the co-director of Balikatan 2002, a month before I took my designation as the defense attache in Washington D.C.," Lorenzana said.
"And I am grateful that until today I am still part of this exercise that has evolved to meet the challenges of times. It has metamorphosed from a purely bilateral exercise to one where other US and Philippine allies and partners like Japan and Australia can participate in varying degrees or merely as observers," he added.
In this year's Balikatan exercises, around 5,000 soldiers, marines, airmen and sailors from the Armed Forces of the Philippines along with 3,000 servicemen coming from the US Marines, Navy, Air Force and Special Operations Force will be participating in the two-week maneuvers which started May 7 and will end on the 18th.
Around 20 personnel from the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force and 60 from the Australian Defence Forces will also participate as observers in the above-mentioned exercises.
"This 34th iteration of the biggest annual bilateral exercise between the Philippines and US aims not only to broaden the defense relationships between our two countries but primarily to have our increased and effective inter-operability as this year's exercise theme suggests," Lorenzana said.
He added inter-operability, being espoused by Balikatan, is an enabler for nation building as it facilitates meaningful contribution by partners or allies.
"As the current formulation of the United States' national security strategy states, we must always be prepared to act alone and that is our most advantageous course. But many of our security objectives are best achieved or can only be achieved through our alliances and other formal security structures," the DND chief pointed out.
"And Balikatan is one activity that we annually do with the US as our ally that manifests our desire to work together over the long term to achieve and maintain shared interests against common threats," he added.
Lorenzana said this year's Balikatan will focus on interoperability training to address traditional and non-traditional security concerns.
"Through this exercise, we hope to improve our counter-terrorism capabilities in order to build safer communities and work towards the eradication of global terror networks," the DND chief disclosed.
"We hope that through this activity we will have a stronger teamwork while we endeavor to our common vision of developing long term cooperation and effective interoperability between the Philippines and the United States and our allies," he added. (With reports from Ericka Cirera, OJT/PNA)
Source: Philippine News Agency