Philippines, US begin smaller-scale joint military exercises

Philippines, US begin smaller-scale joint military exercises

The change in focus of the drill from territorial defence operations was instructed by Duterte, who has indicated a shift in foreign policy to expand security ties with Russian Federation and China.

"I can tell you that every Marines, Sailors, Soldiers, men that's coming to the Philippines for the exercise are not disappointed, they are looking forward, again as I said HADR and counter-terrorism are two critically important areas of concern for both of our nations, for all other nations, so I think there's a lot of work to be done", he noted.

The drills, dubbed Balikatan (Shoulder-to-Shoulder), began on Monday.

During a trip to Beijing previous year, Duterte, a self-described socialist, announced that he was in the "ideological flow" of China's communist rulers.

Trump even invited Duterte to the White House, in a move that riled human rights activists who claim Duterte wantonly ordered the deaths of drug suspects.

His Filipino counterpart, Lt-Gen Oscar Lactao, said the exercise priority was chosen based on the guidance from Mr Duterte. Last month, the USA president invited Duterte to visit him at the White House. China has claimed nearly all of the South China Sea territory, even though several other nations, including the Philippines, have also staked claims to the region.

The Philippines and United States on Monday launched an annual military exercise that was smaller in scale than in years past, focusing on disaster response and counterterrorism while excluding territorial defence operations and maritime security.

Only 5,400 Filipino and American soldiers are participating in the 10-day exercises, down from 11,000 previous year, noted Major Celeste Frank Sayson, a spokesman for the Balikatan. That is down from 12,000 in 2015.

The American co-director of this year's Balikatan, Lieutenant General Lawrence Nicholson, said the U.S. military hoped the exercises would grow again in future editions. There are any number of ways it can change. It can get bigger, it can get smaller. Later, Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay said Duterte was misunderstood and that he was referring to US-Philippines patrols beyond Manila's territorial waters. Authorities say about 5,400 solders are participating this year.

The Philippines endures about 20 major storms a year that sweep in off the Pacific Ocean, many of them deadly.

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