Government soldiers from the Philippines and the United States concluded their shoulder-to-shoulder exercise this year, which was the “largest Balikatan exercises ever held” thus far, a top U.S. official said.
In a press statement published on Friday, Chargé d’Affaires ad interim Heather Variava of the U.S. Embassy in Manila said Balikatan 22, the 37th iteration of the annual bilateral exercise between her country and the Philippines, was a “testament to the strength of their alliance.”
“After two years of a global pandemic, U.S. and Philippine forces have come together to complete one of the largest Balikatan exercises ever held. This is a testament to the strength of the U.S.-Philippine alliance and the shared priorities of our countries,” read Variava’s statement.
Over the last two weeks, nearly 9,000 exercise participants from the AFP and US military trained in the northern coast of Luzon to Palawan, focusing on maritime security, amphibious operations, live-fire training, urban operations, aviation operations, counterterrorism, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
Brig. Gen. Joseph Clearfield, US Marine Corps Forces Pacific Deputy Commander, said the military exercises strengthened the preparedness and responsiveness as “one cohesive team” to any crisis or challenge.
“The completion of yet another successful Balikatan is a clear example of our shared commitment to advancing peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region,” said Clearfield.
The US and Philippine exercise forces employed more than 50 aircraft, four ships, 10 amphibious craft, four HIMARS rocket system launchers, and four Patriot missile systems during Balikatan 22. This year’s exercise also included approximately 40 personnel from the Australian Defense Force.
Maj. Gen. Charlton Sean Gaerlan, AFP exercise director, commended the exercises that pushed through despite the limitations from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The experience gained from exercise Balikatan complemented our security cooperation endeavors and helped enhance existing mutual security efforts,” Gaerlan said.
During Balikatan 22, the US Army Patriot missile systems were employed in amphibious operations in the Philippines for the first time. The exercise also saw the inaugural deployment of the US Marine Corps’ 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment (3d MLR), which was established in Hawaii on March 3.
The AFP and U.S. military also conducted multiple humanitarian and civic assistance projects, including the renovation of four elementary schools, multiple community health engagements, and the exchange of advanced emergency rescue and lifesaving techniques.
Balikatan, Filipino term for “shoulder-to-shoulder,” is a longstanding bilateral exercise highlighting the deep-rooted partnership between the Philippines and the United States.