by: MAJ CELESTE FRANK SAYSON

Manila, April 24, 2017 — The Government of the Philippines has invited U.S. Armed Forces to train alongside the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) at the 33rd iteration of Exercise Balikatan from May 8 to 19 at multiple locations in Luzon and in Visayas regions.

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 school buildings and conduct community medical engagements with local residents in the opening days of the 12-day military training activity.  Preliminary work on community infrastructure projects began in 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.

The Mutual Defense Board and the Security Engagement Board have carefully included President Duterte's guidance for this year's exercise. The series of events manifests the exercise's refocus to Humanitarian Civil Assistance, Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response, and Counter Terrorism. The entire exercise follows a single-scenario concept where a super typhoon “devastates” areas along its path in the areas of responsibilities of Central Command, National Capital Region, and Northern Luzon.

This year’s exercise will have AFP and U.S. Armed Forces partnering to improve their counterterrorism capabilities in order to build safer communities and work towards the eradication of global terror networks.  During Balikatan, Filipino and American Service Members will conduct operational and counter-terrorism training exercises in diverse areas of expertise, including advanced marksmanship, counter improvised explosive devices (IED), and maritime interdiction against piracy.

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.