US, PH start military exercises ahead of Obama visit

Posted at 04/21/14 5:19 PM

MANILA - The Philippines and the United States began Monday the first phase of the Exercise Balikatan 2014 ahead of the visit next week of US President Barack Obama.

The US Embassy said American soldiers will conduct preliminary work on community infrastructure projects in Legazpi City, Albay.

The actual military exercises will take place on May 5 to 16.

The embassy said: “The Balikatan exercise focuses on training members of both Philippine and U.S. armed forces to provide relief and assistance in the event of natural disasters and other crises that endanger public health and safety.”

“Additionally, military service members from both countries will conduct combined staff exercises and field training in Crow Valley, Fort Magsaysay and Clark Airfield to improve their interoperability and contingency planning,” it added.

Balikatan 2014 is also the 30th iteration of the annual exercise.

“This year, the Philippines and the United States have invited a number of personnel from other regional partner nations to attend a portion of the exercise,” the embassy added.

This comes ahead of the visit of Obama on April 28, which pundits see as a part of the US’ Asian pivot.

The visit also comes on the heels of China's recent moves in the West Philippine Sea. The Philippines has sought the help of US and its Asian neighbors to support a peaceful resolution to the sea dispute.

Militant groups, meanwhile, slammed the new round of military exercises.

“This year's bilateral exercises happening from April 6 to May 16 serve as the 'humanitarian backdrop' of the scheduled visit of U.S. President Barack Obama to the Philippines for the finalization of the US-PH Agreement Enhanced Defense Cooperation," Anakpawis Rep. Fernando Hicap said.

"But behind that humanitarian cover is U.S.' grand scheme of transforming the Philippines into a strategic military hub that will be used by the U.S. military for its pivot to Asia campaign that is directed towards intervention and intrusion countries in the Asia-Pacific," he added.