Balikatan’s MNS Photo

MANILA, Apr 24 (Mabuhay) — Learning to work together in difficult times is the most significant lesson American and Filipino troops can learn from the annual Balikatan exercise, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said on Friday.

“What is the most significant lesson we get from these exercises is that we learned to work and cooperate with our friends, specifically military-to-military because whenever there is a disaster or any crisis it is the military who is always called upon to address them, typhoon, earthquake whatever you call it and now because the Americans have the same disaster and calamities in their own area so exchange, (we) exchange knowledge and expertise,” Lorenzana said in an interview shortly after the closing ceremony of this year’s Balikatan exercises at Armed Forces of the Philippines headquarters (AFP) at Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.

Lorenzana also stressed that the Balikatan has become one of the premier military exercises in the region.

The knowledge gained, however, has been mainly used for humanitarian assistance and disaster response, which Lorenzana said is indicative of how the Philippines intends to contribute to preserving international order.

“We have been doing this for the past 36 years, these military exercises. But we never had, even once, used our acquired knowledge to fight another country. But for disaster and humanitarian purposes, we have done this many, many times,” he added.

Lorenzana’s views were shared by US Embassy Chargé d’Affaires John Law who said that regardless of the ongoing coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic.

“I agree with the Secretary (Lorenzana) and I would also point out that, I think it’s extraordinarily significant that despite all of the immense disruptions over the past year, despite the extraordinary challenges that the pandemic poses to having people come together and work together, we did it, they did it, they did it extraordinarily well,” he added in the same interview.

The 36th iteration of the Balikatan Exercise kicked off on April 12.

“And I think the lesson to draw from that is regardless of the difficulty of the crisis, US and Filipinos (troops) are going to work extremely well together,” Law said.

He added that every American soldier he had talked with is always happy to come to the Philippines and work with their counterparts.

“I have never heard anyone and anything except highest, most positive possible experience when they are able to train together with their Filipino counterparts so we are always extraordinarily happy at that opportunity and I think the success of this year’s Balikatan is simply one more indication, one more example of that,” Law said.

Due to the global health crisis Covid-19, Balikatan 2021 was scaled down both in numbers of events and participants.

Around 225 US military personnel and 415 AFP personnel participated; all of whom strictly followed health and safety protocols.

“The successful conduct of this year’s Balikatan Exercise 36-2021 has definitely brought us a step closer towards our goal of capacitating our forces, and as such, will consequently contribute to the peace and stability of the Indo-Pacific Region,” AFP chief-of-staff Gen. Cirilito Sobejana said in a statement.

Meanwhile, AFP spokesperson and Balikatan exercise director Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo said American and Filipino troops were able to achieve their objectives which is to train together on defense and security efforts, leveraging on the capability, experience, and strength of both militaries’ long-standing friendship. Also, Law said Balikatan showcases the strength and resolve of the Philippine-US alliance.

“These exercises demonstrate and improve our ability to jointly respond to crises. But training is never over. We will continue to advance our military-to-military partnership in pursuit of our shared commitment to mutual defense in a free and open Indo-Pacific,” he added in the same statement.

Major Balikatan 2021 events were held in Colonel Ernesto Ravina Airbase in Tarlac, where combined Air Force and Special Operations forces conducted close air support training, increasing interoperability across the joint forces.

AFP Northern Luzon Command Battle Staff and US Indo-Pacific Command representatives conducted a bilateral staff exercise in Clark, Pampanga.

Philippine and US Special Operations forces also conducted a Bilateral Staff Academic Seminar in Taguig City.

Academic discussions and subject matter expert exchanges were held virtually to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

The Philippine Air Force and US Pacific Air Forces conducted a virtual Global Health Engagement and other virtual training on various air operations and capabilities.

The year’s exercises also included Humanitarian and Civic Assistance activities, which began on March 26, prior to the opening of the exercises. Philippine and US service members completed the construction of two classrooms and a daycare center in Plaridel, a classroom in Atimonan, and a health clinic in Mauban, all in Quezon.

Lorenzana, on the other hand, recognized the continuous commitment to the longstanding alliance of the Philippines and the U S Government.

“Allow me to convey my gratitude to the US Government, represented here by Mr. John Law, for its unwavering support to this annual exercise. I am likewise grateful for your constant and continued assurance of the ironclad commitment to our Mutual Defense Treaty,” he added. (MNS)

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