Manila, May 19 (IANS) The Philippines and US on Friday concluded their annual joint military exercises.
The 2017 Balikatan exercise, in which fewer troops participated than in previous years and which was limited to counter-terrorism and disaster combat drills, ended with a ceremony at the headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in Quezon, Efe news reported.
Nearly 5,400 soldiers — 2,800 from the Philippines and 2,600 from the US — participated in the 12-day exercises, along with several others from Australia and Japan, as compared to 11,000 in 2016.
In his speech, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, General Eduardo Ano, said the exercises have improved the joint operability of the troops and strengthened bilateral ties.
The 2017 Balikatan edition was limited to counter-terrorism drills for the provinces of Samar, Cagayan, Isabela, Aurora and Nueva Ecija and disaster combat techniques, including large-scale evacuations and search and rescue operations.
The Balikatan drills have been held every year since the two countries signed a mutual defence agreement in 1951.
Exercises near the Spratly archipelago in the South China Sea were absent from this year’s drills.
The Balikatan exercises were held this year despite Duterte’s assertion that joint US-Filipino drills in October would be the last of their kind.