Balikatan 2013 slated in April

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    ANGELES CITY – The annual Philippines-U.S. military bilateral training exercise and humanitarian assistance engagement, Balikatan 2013, will be undertaken from April 5 to 17.

    This, even as local political observers express “some trepidation” over Balikatan’s “ramification to the Sabah crisis and, more importantly, the Chinese intrusion in the West Philippine Sea.”    

    A news release from the US Embassy in Manila said joint humanitarian assistance projects in communities throughout Zambales will form part of this year’s exercise.

    Preliminary work on community infrastructure projects will begin mid-March.  Military medical personnel will offer free medical, dental and veterinary care. In selected communities, military engineers will construct and repair schools and other infrastructure.

    The Balikatan series of exercises focuses on training both the U.S. and Philippines armed forces to provide relief and assistance in the event of natural disasters and other crises that endanger public health and safety. 

    Additionally, armed forces personnel from both countries will conduct combined staff exercises and field training in Camp O’Donnell, Crow Valley, Subic Bay and Fort Magsaysay to improve interoperability and contingency planning.

    Balikatan 2013 is the 29th staging of this annual exercise.  This year, the Philippines and the United States have invited a small number of personnel from other partner nations in the region to attend a portion of the exercise. 

    ‘Muscle-flexing

    “How will the Chinese take the US forces ‘coupling’ with the Philippine military?” asked a political science professor from a local university here who asked for anonymity “to protect his academic freedom.”

    “Beijing may construe this as muscle-flexing by Uncle Sam, especially with the express policy of the Obama administration to impact US presence in the Asia-Pacific,” he said.

    Instead of cooling down, tensions may even rise between the Philippines and China, he said.

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