MANILA, Philippines — The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the United States (US) military on Monday opened the 36th Balikatan Exercise with a ceremony held at the Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City.
AFP chief of staff General Cirilito Sobejana declared the opening of the exercise, which is an annual activity for Philippine and US troops.
“The Balikatan Exercise, since its launching in 1991, has been a treasure trove of learning opportunities for both Filipino and American soldiers and in recent years would also include our other allies here in the Indo-Pacific region,” Sobejana said.
U.S. Embassy in the Philippines Chargé d’Affaires John Law was also present during the ceremony along with other AFP and US military officials.
“Joint exercises like Balikatan demonstrate our shared commitment to peace and stability and the adaptability of U.S. and Philippine forces. The United States will continue to seek ways, even during the pandemic, to strengthen our security cooperation,” Law said.
Department of National Defense Undersecretary Cesar Yano presided over the opening ceremony of the exercise, which he said will “reinvigorate the friendship, partnership, and alliance between the Philippines and the United States.”
This year’s Balikatan will include a bilateral staff exercise, close air support training, subject matter exchanges, maritime security training, and humanitarian and civic assistance activities.
These events will be conducted in areas within the Northern Luzon Command and Southern Luzon Command, the AFP said.
As part of the humanitarian and civic assistance activities, Filipino and American service members are building two classrooms and a daycare center in Plaridel, Bulacan Province, as well as a classroom in Atimonan and a health center in Mauban, both in Quezon Province.
The projects began on March 26 and are set to be completed by April 23, coinciding with the exercise’s conclusion.
The AFP assured that activities relating to the Balikatan exercise will be conducted with “utmost consideration and compliance” to guidelines set by the government’s inter-agency task force against COVID-19 to “ensure the safety of both participants and the community.”
Adjustments were also implemented, including the decrease of participants from both militaries. The AFP will have 736 personnel participate while the U.S. Armed Forces will have approximately 225 participants.
“Though this year’s exercises are toned down because of the prevailing health crisis, which has affected not only the Philippines, but similarly the entire world – these circumstances will, however, not diminish nor hamper the real intent of the Balikatan Exercises – that is to foster a stronger and more robust military relationship, and interoperability between our two Armed Forces,” Sobejana said.
“Against this backdrop and these challenges notwithstanding, the decrease is only in terms of number and never in the participating nations’ passion and desire to meet the steep objectives set forth in every exercise,” said Major General Edgard Arevalo, AFP spokesperson and also Balikatan exercise director.
Arevalo’s U.S. counterpart, Colonel Aaron Brunk reiterated the importance of the bilateral exercise.
“I am greatly honored to be here today and to stand shoulder to shoulder with our Philippine allies and friends. By training together, our militaries build upon each other and strengthen each other,” Brunk said.
Balikatan is a Tagalog phrase for “shoulder-to-shoulder,” which characterizes the spirit of the exercise and represents the partnership between the U.S. and the Philippines, the AFP said.
Last year’s Balikatan exercise was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
MANILA, Philippines — A suspected Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) member was killed while three soldiers were injured in a gunfight in Sulu, the Armed Forces of the Philippines-Western Mindanao Command (AFP-WestMinCom) said Friday.
In a statement, the AFP-WestMincom said the encounter between the ASG and the operating forces of the Joint Task Force (JTF) Sulu occurred early morning Friday in Barangay Kagay, Indanan.
The bandits fled the scene after the firefight that lasted for five minutes.
JTF Sulu commander Major General William Gonzales identified the slain ASG member as Arab Undo, one of the remaining followers of the slain ASG senior leader Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan.
Authorities recovered from the clash site one cal. 45 pistol, one backpack, a solar panel, personal belongings, and food items.
Meanwhile, the three soldiers who were wounded in the encounter were brought to Kuta Heneral Teodulfo Bautista Station Hospital for medical attention. They are now in stable condition.
“Pursuit and blockade are being conducted by the Joint Task Force Sulu to thwart the extrication of the local terrorists group,” Gonzales said.
“This is another one blow to the ASG and we hope we could be able to neutralize the remaining members of the terrorist group the soonest,” he added.
MANILA, Philippines — The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Thursday expressed support for the decision of the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) to publish resolutions designating some individuals as terrorists.
“The AFP supports the Anti-Terrorism Council’s Resolution Nos. 16 and 17 which designate 10 local terrorist group individuals and 19 CPP-NPA members as terrorists,” AFP chief of staff General Cirilito Sobejana said in a statement.
“The military organization further conveys its full confidence to the ATC’s decision which was carried out based on verified and validated information,” he added.
The ATC published on Thursday Resolution No. 17, designating 19 alleged leaders of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army as terrorists.
The council also listed as terrorists in Resolution No. 16 ten members of different local terrorist groups such as the Abu Sayyaf Group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, and the Daulah Islamiyah.
These individuals are accused of conspiring, planning, and preparing for the commission of terrorism, covered by Sections 6, 7, and 10 of the Anti-Terrorism Act.
With this development, the AFP said it will be able to further protect the public citizens from terrorist acts by closely working together with government law enforcement agencies and focusing resources to bring the mentioned personalities to justice.
“We are optimistic that the ATC’s resolution will continue to empower government, under the rule of law, to eradicate terrorism in our country, and maintain a peaceful and progressive nation for every Filipinos,” Sobejana said.
Under the Anti-Terrorism Law of 2020, the ATC has the authority to designate individuals, groups of individuals, organizations, or associations as terrorists without a court hearing.
This measure will allow the Anti-Money Laundering Council to freeze the assets of designated personalities or organizations.
Persons designated as terrorists have 15 days to file a request for delisting.
MANILA, Philippines — Four members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) —Karialan faction were killed during a military operation in Datu Paglas, Maguindanao on Wednesday (May 12).
Brigadier General Roy Galido, commander of 601st Infantry Brigade, confirmed that they were in pursuit of the BIFF group—Karialan faction following a clash with military forces near the public market of the said town last Saturday, May 8.
The BIFF group tried to evade security forces during the intensified manhunt operations of military and police. Accordingly, the operating troops recovered 4 dead bodies belonging to the extremist group, one high powered firearm, and other war materials.
The clash came after the visit of President Rodrigo Duterte inside the headquarters of the 6th Infantry Division in Awang, Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao on May 11.
Major General Juvymax Uy, Commander of the Joint Task Force Central and 6th Infantry Division, applauded the efforts of the operating troops against the BIFF.
“Your efforts is a manifestation of your commitment to serve the Filipino people,” Maj. Gen. Uy said. He further stressed that the JTF Central and 6ID will continue its intensified operation against the said groups to prevent them from hurting the civilian populace and destroying infrastructures,” he said. AAC
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