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Balikatan Exercises: X-factor in the Phil countryside and military development (Part 2 of 2)

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Balikatan 2007 (February 19-March 5, 2007) officially opened with a program commemorating fifty (50) years of RP-US cooperation on projects and activities of mutual interest. About 1,200 RP and 390 US military personnel worked together in thirteen (13) Medical Capabilities and five (5) Engineering Capabilities projects.

One important infrastructure project in Jolo was the paving of a four-kilometer road that allowed  the residents of a village to travel easily to the capital town anytime of the year.

Aside from this, the RP and US servicemen worked with local government officials and other partners in holding twelve (12) medical clinics in selected areas in Mindanao, where more than 6,000 residents were treated and served. They also provided dental and veterinary care; built and renovated school buildings, a day care center and a health clinic; and repaired a boat

ramp and pier.

Balikatan 2008 (February 18-March 3, 2008) focused on training RP and US forces to provide relief and assistance in the event of natural disasters and other crises that endanger public health and safety. Medical, dental and engineering civic action projects were therefore conducted in selected areas in Luzon, Lanao, Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and Palawan.

The engineering projects included the renovation of the Pang Elementary School in Jolo, St. Juliana Elementary School in Crow Valley, Pampanga. and the Maragondon National High School in Ternate, Cavite. The combined staff exercises and field training were held in Luzon and Palawan to improve contingency planning and strengthen maritime security.

A special feature of Balikatan 2008 was the jungle survival training which some selected US military personnel had undergone. It was highlighted by cooking cobras, eating wild plants and testing their strength and endurance under the “jump wings” of Philippine Army Special Forces trainers. (Sgt. 1st Class Jason Shepherd and Lance Cpl. Kevin Knallay, “Balikatan 08

Kicks Off in Philippine Jungle,” February 21, 2008, w.w.w.army.mil)

Balikatan 2009 (April 16-30, 2009) constituted three (3) events in which RP and US military personnel participated: (1) Humanitarian and civic assistance projects; (2) scenario-based staff exercise managed from Manila; and (3) field training activities in Central Luzon and Cavite province. (Brig. Gen. Ronald Bailey, “Exercise Balikatan ’09 Update,” April 2009, USNI Blog)

The humanitarian and civic assistance projects were conducted in Bicol, Central and Southern Luzon, and Zamboanga in the form of medical, dental, and veterinary care as well as construction and repair of schools and other community infrastructure projects. As then US Ambassador Kristie A. Kenney said, “These humanitarian assistance and training activities enable our soldiers to get to know each other, train together, and provide assistance in communities where the need is greatest . . . to help the greatest possible number of people in need.” (“RP-US ‘Balikatan 2009’ Emphasizes humanitarian assistance,” March 30, 2009,manila.usembassy.gov)

The second and third components were “vital to maintaining the readiness capabilities for both US and Philippine armed forces who share a 57-year mutual defense treaty.” (MassCom Specialist 2nd Class Gabriel S. Weber, COMPHIBRON ELEVEN, April 15, 2009, w.w.w.public.navy.mil)

The exercise was jump-started with a training on the use of a variety of weapons, including the M16 rifle, sniper rifle, 81 mm. mortar, and the 50-caliber machine gun on April 14th in Fort Magsaysay, Nueva Ecija. (Capt. Ken Ola, “Annual Balikatan 2009 exercise begins in the  Philippines,” April 24, 2009, w.w.w.army.mil) Balikatan 2010 (February 14-28, 2010) included humanitarian and civic assistance projects, specifically thirteen (13) medical, dental, optometry and minor surgeries held at eight (8) different locations, such as Ilocos Sur in northern Luzon, where more than 12,000 patients were treated. Ten (10) veterinary capability projects at seven (7) different locations were also held, treating about 2,865 animals, including pigs, chickens, dogs and a pet monkey.

The engineering projects included the following: (1) Demolition of a school and construction of a new two-room school on the site; (2) demolition of an old structure and building a new health care center; (3) construction of two new schools on empty sites; (4) refurbishment of a two-room school to include new roofing and continuation of the construction of a flood  protection Gabion wall. 

Aside from a scenario-based staff exercise and numerous cross-training and field exercises in Central Luzon and Cavite province, the RP and US troops involved also completed twenty (20) community relations visits throughout Luzon. They delivered five (5) tons of clothes, shoes, toys and school supplies for more than 8,500 school children. (Navy Lt. David Loberg, in “Balikatan 2010 ends with closing ceremony,” March 25, 2010, http://74.6.117.48/search)

A closer perusal of the foregoing ten-year review of Balikatan reveals that it has a recurrent, threefold theme – bottom line, if you will: (1) Humanitarian and civic assistance, such as  medical, dental, veterinary services and engineering projects; (2) cross-training and field training in military operations, such as air rescue, amphibious operations, close air support, small arms training, and staging support to enhance the interoperability of RP and US troops; and (3) a combined task force seminar and command post exercise on crisis management, planning and course of action implementation at the operational level.

Although the Balikatan Exercises are still controversial, they have not attracted as much attention from the media and other critics as have other explosive issues. Perhaps this partly explains why the RP-US authorities concerned have been able to promptly conduct the exercises. The humanitarian and civic assistance projects that have been accomplished are small-scale, yet these fill some gaps in our government’s basic public service delivery system nationwide, especially in remote and depressed areas.

Besides, the positive impact of such projects on the present and future lives of the people in the poor communities where the exercises have been held is immeasurable. Similarly, the effects of the cross-training and field training the Filipino Balikatan soldiers have undergone are far-reaching; the skills they have acquired in applying the new techniques and using the new equipment provided by the US military will surely increase their chances of staying alive during future encounters with terrorists and other lawless elements.

All these prove that, indeed, the Balikatan Exercises are an x-factor in Philippine countryside and military development. They have, in a word, significantly complemented the basic public service delivery efforts of our government and have markedly contributed to the modernization of the AFP. That Balikatan’s second decade of valuable service was successfully

launched two months ago through Balikatan 2011 presages a greater boon for the Filipino nation!

By Ric Adjawie




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