Manila, March 27 (IANS) The Philippines has cancelled its biggest annual joint military exercise with the US this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, a high-ranking official said on Friday.
Rear Admiral Adelius Bordado, the co-exercise director of the exercise dubbed as ‘Balikatan 2020’, said that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff General Felimon Santos has recommended the cancellation scheduled for May 4-15, reports Xinhua news agency.
“We are in an extraordinary situation. Many will be put at risk if we push through with the exercise,” Bordado told reporters, adding that up to 10,000 troops are expected to participate in the exercise this year.
Balikatan is an annual exercise between the Philippines and the US and involves participation from Australia.
On March 4, Brigadier General Edgard Arevalo, the AFP spokesperson, said around 6,500 US forces and 4,300 Filipino troops were expected to participate in this year’s iteration of Balikatan.
The number is almost double than last year’s Balikatan participants of 3,500 American and 4,000 Filipino troops.
Balikatan, a Tagalog phrase for shoulder-to-shoulder, is the most comprehensive among several annual or regular US-Philippines joint military exercises that aims to develop Philippine combat readiness and US- AFP inter-operability.
The Philippines now has 707 confirmed COVID-19 cases, including 45 deaths.