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Philippines, US troops to hold drills near Benham Rise

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(Photo from Philippine Star)

 

MANILA (via PhilAmPress) — Filipino and American troops will launch a naval disaster drill off Casiguran, Aurora near the Benham Rise in the Pacific Ocean during this year’s joint Balikatan military exercises which start on May 8.

 

Officials said the joint military exercises, the 33rd between the two countries, would now focus on humanitarian response drills.

 

Dubbed as Civil-Military Activities from the Sea (CMA-S), the joint naval disaster maneuver will be conducted off the coastal areas of the country’s eastern seaboard.

 

This year’s Balikatan will involve units of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG).

 

“Our ships with the US and the PCG will navigate from Subic Bay and they will be passing by the waters off Zambales, Cagayan Valley on their way to Casiguran, Aurora for launching of the sea-based disaster response scenario,” Balikatan spokesman for the Philippines Maj. Frank Sayson said.

 

Sayson said the joint disaster naval exercise along the Pacific coastline from Subic is expected to start on May 7 and be completed with a week.

Culminating event for the CMA-S drills will be the landing of relief items and supplies in the coastal area of Casiguran on May 15.

 

An announcement from the US Embassy in Manila stated that Philippine and U.S. forces will kick off Exercise Balikatan 33-2017 through community engagement activities in Panay, Leyte, and Samar.  

 

U.S. and Filipino service members will work together to renovate five schools and conduct community medical engagements with local residents in the opening days of the 12-day military training exercise.  Preliminary work on community infrastructure projects began mid-April.

 

Balikatan 33-2017 incorporates high value training events designed to enhance the capabilities of both AFP and U.S. armed forces.  The training focuses on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations in order to improve response effectiveness and speed in the event of natural disasters and other crises that endanger public health and safety.

 

This year’s exercise will have AFP and U.S. forces partnering to improve their counterterrorism capabilities in order to build safer communities and work towards the eradication of global terror networks.  During Balikatan, U.S. and Philippine forces will conduct operational and counterterrorism training exercises in diverse areas of expertise, including live fire advanced marksmanship, counter improvised explosive devices (IED), maritime interdiction, and amphibious raids.

 

In this year’s Balikatan, the Philippines and the United States will continue to collaborate with regional partner nations: forces from Australia and Japan will participate in all major training events, and the AFP has invited military forces from several other nations to be part of the International Observers Program.

 

“I cannot tell you yet how many assets will be committed by the participants but definitely, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) will be fielding many for this activity,” Sayson said.

 

Casiguran is among the remotest towns in the eastern seaboard nearest to Benham Rise in the Pacific Ocean. The town is often in the path of the powerful storms blowing in from the Pacific.

 

A separate joint quake disaster response drill in an urban setting will also be undertaken by combined Filipino and American troops at the headquarters of the Army’s 7th Infantry Division in Fort Magsaysay, Nueva Ecija.

 

Foreign and local observers were invited to the event on May 12.

 

Sayson said the planners of this year’s Balikatan (Shoulder to Shoulder) agreed that both Filipino and US forces must harness not only their fighting skills but also their disaster response capabilities.

 

Sayson said the joint quake disaster response drill is most important to Filipino troops as the Philippines is prone to earthquakes, being situated in the Pacific Ring of Fire.

 

The AFP has committed several of its engineering units to join the quake disaster response drill. 

 

President Duterte has ordered this year’s Balikatan to focus more on humanitarian and disaster response activities instead of the usual war games.

 

Balikatan is scheduled for launching on May 8 and will end on May 16.President Rodrigo Duterte to proceed with an exploration of the Benham Rise next week.

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