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Balikatan Exercise: X-factor in Philippine countryside and military development (Part 2)

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Officially launched on the 16th day of the previous month, Balikatan 2012 was held in various parts of our country, notably in the province of Palawan; it ended 12 days afterwards on April 27th. As I expected, it has proven to be a boon for our nation, just like the previous Balikatan Exercises.

Participated in by more than 6,500 US and RP soldiers, it conducted “separate events across three (3) categories:  humanitarian civic assistance [HCA], command post exercise [CPX], and field training exercise [FTX].” (Mike Meares, [US] Marine Forces Pacific, “Philippine, US leaders deem Exercise Balikatan 2012 a success,” April 27, 2012, Marines.mil)

These categories have formed the recurrent threefold theme – bottom line, if you will of  the yearly Balikatan Exercise since its inception in 2001, as the original version of this article had pointed out. Also published in this widely read daily on July 12, 2011, it was a review of the first decade of implementation of the Balikatan Exercise in our country. That review highlighted my firm conviction that such enterprise was – and still is – an x-factor a largely unrecognized but valuable element that has positive, far-reaching and immeasurable consequences) in the development of certain underserved parts of our country as well as in the modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) as a whole.

But as could be expected, certain militant groups in Manila and here in Zambo reacted by staging protest actions against the resumption of the Balikatan Exercise last month. And as in the past, their right to free speech and expression was respected, although their protests never had any adverse impact on the annual implementation of Balikatan.  

That its resumption came at a time when Red China has manifested heightened aggressiveness in upholding its claim over the Scarborough Shoal, which is located south of the West Philippine Sea, should not be misconstrued as part of our country’s preparation for a possible armed conflict. As President P-Noy himself has declared, “Balikatan [has] nothing to do with the Scarborough Shoal dispute and there [is] no reason for the war games to provoke China.” (Jason Gutierrez, “Philippines hails start of US war games,” April 16, 2012, YAHOO! NEWS Philippines) 

In the same report, Brig. General Frederick Padilla, Director for the US side of Balikatan, corroborated President P-Noy’s statement when he said that
“the exercises were not meant as a warning to China amid its dispute with the Philippines over Scarborough Shoal [and] is not linked to any particular situation.”        

In support of the foregoing standpoints, I humbly submit:

(1)  Balikatan would have been held regardless of any domestic or international tension, simply because it is an annual program of US-RP cooperation under the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), and that it has been held for 12 years now;

(2) an imaginative definition which I’ve seen on the t-shirts of some Filipinos hereabouts captures somehow our prevailing national mood as regards the “China Issue” – AFP:  Armed for Peace;

(3) “The Philippines renounces war as an instrument of national policy, adopts the generally accepted principles of international law as part of the law of the land and adheres to the policy of peace, equality, justice, freedom, cooperation, and amity with all nations” (Article II, Section 2 of the Philippine Constitution); and

(4) our National Government, in keeping with this policy, has already elevated its stance on China’s belligerence to the appropriate international body for immediate consideration.

Therefore, Balikatan 2012 is as inward-looking and defense-oriented as the previous eleven (11) such exercises. Its HCA activities took place in various depressed areas of Palawan province, where US and RP medical personnel successfully treated some 5,862 Patients, and their veterinarians treated approximately 6,091 animals. Its CPX, which comprised notional tabletop exercises, was multilateral and focused on humanitarian assistance as well as planning and coordination of disaster relief operations. For this purpose, simulated natural disaster scenarios were used to test and improve the pertinent capabilities of the participants. And its FTX took the US and RP troops concerned to the field for realistic bilateral training scenarios from live-fire events to explosive ordnance disposal training.

But what made Balikatan 2012 different from the previous exercises was the active involvement of such other countries as Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, South Korea, Singapore, and Vietnam in the CPX, particularly. (Mike Meares, “Philippine, US leaders deem . . .”)  And because it also sought “to identify gaps and solutions from . . . disaster situations that occurred recently . . . and anticipated future calamities,” representatives of the following organizations were also scheduled to participate:  National Disaster Response and Risk Management Council, Office of Civil Defense, Metro Manila Disaster Response  Coordinating Council, Armed Forces of the Philippines, US Agency for International Development, US Pacific Command, UN Country Team, UN Office of the Coordinator of Humanitarian Affairs, World Food Program, International Federation of the Red Cross, and Philippine National Red Cross. (PIA, “Balikatan 2012 focuses on humanitarian and disaster response,” April 16, 2012, filamnation.com)

The involvement of the countries mentioned earlier and that of the foregoing national and international organizations in Balikatan 2012 underscore the nature and role of the Balikatan Exercise as an essential part of the Exercise Team Challenge. This is an umbrella exercise that has been designed to improve combat readiness and interoperability by tying together joint or combined exercises between the US and the Philippines and other interested countries.

Thus, using the rich Balikatan experience of our country as benchmark, it would be justifiable to suppose that such cooperative enterprise could also be an x-factor in the development of the other countries that would opt to join Exercise Team Challenge. Then, Balikatan Exercise would be transformed into a global inspiration, at least in South Asia expectably!


by Ric Adjawie




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