The Balikatan (or shoulder to shoulder) exercises began with a simple ceremony at the Philippine military headquarters.
Armed Forces Chief Cirilito Sobejana said this year’s Balikatan involved only 1,700 troops – 700 from the United States and 1,000 from the Philippines.
About 7,500 troops participated in the last exercise in 2019 – 4,000 on the Filipino side and 3,500 on the US side.
The Philippine Department of Defense has said that due to the pandemic, this year’s exercise was “a much smaller version.”
The Balikatan was intended to improve the interoperability of US and Philippine forces in home defense, counterterrorism and humanitarian and disaster response.
The VFA, signed in 1998, authorizes the presence of American troops in the country for the exercises.
However, Duterte has since suspended the termination notice twice.
In a phone call Sunday, Manila and Washington Secretaries of Defense Delfin Lorenzana and Lloyd Austin reiterated the importance of the VFA and discussed cooperation in the face of challenges posed by China’s maritime activities.
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