Philippines, US wrap up Balikatan exercise
MANILA — The Philippines and the United States ended their 29th Balikatan joint military exercises on Wednesday, and immediately set about planning next year's event, raising the possibility of inviting Japan and Australia to make it a multilateral exercise.
Brian Goldbeck, the U.S. deputy chief of mission here, described the recently concluded exercise as the "most ambitious intellectual exchanges in the history of Balikatan."
"This year's exercise featured a medical symposium, an aviation forum, a senior enlisted forum, a chaplain forum and a search-and-rescue forum," Goldbeck said in his remarks.
He underscored the Balikatan activities that went beyond the traditional military exercises like the building of classrooms that can withstand typhoons and floods.
He noted that most of the residents in areas where the engagement was held said all they wanted was for their children to have a good education.
"So many of the families that our service members met in Zambales echoed the same concerns. They just want their children to be able to go to school. And so together, we built a footbridge, a school and a community centre where they can study," Goldbeck said.
He said that 2,700 Filipinos received free medical services, almost 650 received free dental services and 2,000 farm animals and household pets received free inoculations during the exercise.
Maj. Gen. Virgilio Domingo, the director of the Philippine part of the exercise, stressed the Balikatan's contribution to enhancing peace support operations, referred to as military operations other than war.
Domingo said these comprised a disaster response scenario exercise, humanitarian civil assistance activities that include engineering and civic action projects and "a lot of community health engagements."
With natural disasters becoming a pervasive security threat in the country, next year's Balikatan exercises would again focus on humanitarian assistance and disaster response capability, he said.