(From left to right) Philippines Exercise Director and Southern Luzon Command Chief Lt. Gen. Gilbert Gapay, Philippine National Defense Undersecretary Cardozo Luna, United States (U.S.) Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Yong Kim, Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Gen. Benjamin Madrigal Jr., and U.S. Exercise Director Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Christopher McPhillips link arms to show unity and strength during the Balikatan 2019 opening ceremony that marked the official start of the exercise on Monday, April 1, 2019 in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City. (Photo by SN1 Donald H Viluan PN/PAOAFP)

CAMP AGUINALDO, Quezon City – Philippine, U.S. and Australian service members gathered together during the Balikatan 2019 opening ceremony to mark the official start of the exercise on Monday, April 1, 2019 in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.

Balikatan, which means “shoulder-to-shoulder” in Filipino, symbolizes the partnership between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and U.S. Forces.

“Exercise Balikatan has become one of the premier military training events in the Pacific Hemisphere and has helped us to maintain regional stability, uphold international norms, combat violent extremism, alleviate human suffering, and much more,” said U.S. Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Christopher McPhillips, U.S. Exercise Director.

During Balikatan, which will run from April 1-12, Philippine and U.S. forces will conduct counterterrorism training, amphibious operations, live-fire training, urban operations training, aviation operations, bilateral planning, subject matter expert exchanges, and humanitarian and civic assistance projects throughout Luzon.

“The 35th iteration of Exercise Balikatan is aimed at improving both AFP and US Forces’ interoperability through trainings that are focused on mutual defense operations and counterterrorism. The goal of such is to enhance both militaries’ employment of forces and assistance in the event of crises that threaten the safety and security of the nation,” said Lieutenant General Gilbert Gapay, Philippines Exercise Director.

Balikatan focuses on maintaining a high level of readiness and responsiveness, and enhancing combined military-to-military relations and capabilities. Balikatan training helps to reinforcing maritime security, territorial defense capabilities, and responsiveness to humanitarian disasters.

The exercise also includes the participation of the Australian Defence Force for humanitarian and civic assistance projects and special operations forces training. 

Philippine and U.S. military collaboration has served as a cornerstone for stability in the Indo-Pacific region for decades. Both militaries share a continuing interest in strengthening the longstanding alliance.