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  • Writer's pictureMelo Acuna

After a year's absence, Balikatan resumes; strict COVID-19 rules bars media coverage

Balikatan Exercise begins; COVID-19 bars media coverage

MANILA - For the first time since it began in 1991, the joint military exercise between the United States and the Philippines, COVID-19 forced the organizers to bar members of the mainstream media from the coverage.

“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,” said AFP Chief of Staff General Cirilito Sobejana. He declared the start of the BK36-2021 at the GHQ Canopy in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City earlier today.

U.S. Embassy in the Philippines Chargé d’Affaires John Law, Major General Edgard Arevalo, Commander of the AFP Education Training and Doctrine Command and this year year’s Exercise Director, Col. Stephen Ma, Joint U.S. Military Assistance Group Chief and U.S. Defense Attaché, and Col. Aaron Brunk of the U.S. III Marine Expeditionary Force, Officer-in-Charge for Exercise Support Group.

Chargé d’Affaires Law said the United States is proud to participate in the Balikatan Exercise.

“We thank the Armed Forces of the Philippines for hosting U.S. troops in ways that maintain the health and safety of both our militaries,” Mr. Law said. He added joint exercises like Balikatan demonstrate the shared commitment to peace and stability and the adaptability of U.S. and Philippines forces. He explained the United States will continue to seek ways, even during the pandemic, to strengthen the security cooperation.

Defense Undersecretary Cesar Yano presided over the opening ceremony. He was quoted saying the 36th Balikatan Exercise reinvigorate the friendship, partnership and alliance between the Philippines and the United States founded on shared history of putting a premium on peace, security, and cooperation among nations.

There was a significant reduction of participants due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The AFP will send 736 participants while the U.S. Armed Forces will be represented by 225 participants.

There will be a bilateral staff exercise, close air support training, subject matter exchanges, maritime security training and humanitarian as well as civic assistance activities in the Northern Luzon and Southern Luzon Command areas.

The humanitarian and civic assistance activities will bring the members to construct two classrooms and a daycare center in Plaridel, Bulacan Province, and a classroom in Atimonan and health center in Mauban, both in Quezon Province.

The projects, according to the AFP statement began on March 26 and expected to be completed on April 23 during the handover ceremonies to the beneficiaries. The Exercise will end on April 23 and all activities have taken into consideration and observance of guidelines from IATF-EID to ensure the safety of the participants and the community.

Last year’s Balikatan was placed on hold at the guidance of the Commander-In-Chief, President Rodrigo Duterte. (Melo M. Acuña)

Defense Undersecretary Cesar Yano (center) presided over the opening ceremony of this year's joint military exercise. Photo shows AFP Chief of Staff Cirilito Sobejana (second from left), Major General Edgard Arevalo (extreme left) US Embassy's Chargé d'Affaires John Law and Colonel Aaron Brunk from the USIII Marine Expeditionary Force, OIC Exercise Support Group. (Handout photos from the AFP/SN1 Donald Vinluan/PAOAFP)

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