Philippines, US militaries agree to scale down joint exercises

Manila, Nov 22 (IANS) The Philippine and US militaries on Tuesday agreed to scale down their joint military exercises, reduce deployment of US forces in the Philippines and focus more on humanitarian activities.

A Philippine military official said the agreement was forged here during a meeting attended by Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Gen. Ricardo Visaya and head of the US Pacific Command Adm. Harry Harris, Xinhua news agency reported.

The official said US troops, military aircraft and equipment will also be reduced.

A statement issued at the end of the annual Mutual Defence Board – Security Engagement Board (MDB-SEB) meeting said both sides reaffirmed the “robust” military relations between the two allies.

“The successful completion of the MDB-SEB (meeting) ensures continued, robust relations between the US and the Philippine militaries,” the statement said.

Both sides said they “look forward to continued, close cooperation in areas central to both our national and security interests including humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, counterterrorism, cyber-security, and maritime security.”

The high-level security meeting traditionally discusses the details of the joint exercises that both militaries plan to conduct next year. But the statement did not mention the details of next year’s joint military activities.

The Philippine defence department had said earlier that it wants the number of joint exercises to be reduced from current 13 to about six or seven.

The defence department had also indicated that it wants to scrap the annual joint exercises like the Amphibious Landing Exercises and the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training or CARAT naval exercises, and just push through with the Balikatan (shoulder-to-shoulder) Exercises.

Padilla said the two sides also discussed the Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) that Washington and Manila signed in 2014.