Philippines, US begin scaled-down joint military exercises

Mr Duterte had earlier sought to scrap live-fire drills and war games near the South China Sea from this year's Balikatan - a Tagalog word meaning "shoulder to shoulder" - to appease China. Later, Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay said Duterte was misunderstood and that he was referring to US-Philippines patrols beyond Manila's territorial waters.

Duterte also mentioned during his visit to China in October a year ago that he wanted to chart a more independent foreign policy from Washington.

Far fewer soldiers on both sides are participating in the joint exercises compared to past year when about 11,500 soldiers took part in the joint venture.

Troops from Australia and Japan will participate in the annual joint exercises between USA and Philippine militaries that will officially kick off on Monday, a Philippine military spokesman said on Sunday.

Manila: Philippine and United States troops have begun annual joint exercises that are smaller in scale than in years past, focusing on disaster response and counterterrorism while excluding territorial defense operations.

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Balikatan or "shoulder-to-shoulder" is a comprehensive joint military exercise between the US and its treaty ally, the Philippines.

Duterte ordered these changes after US President Barack Obama criticised the death toll incurred from the Philippine's War on Drugs, with Duterte saying that he planned to eventually end the drills as he saw little benefit for his country's troops.

Exercise spokesman Maj. Celeste Frank Sayson said there are around 6,000 participating troops, consisting of some 2,800 Philippine troops and 2,600 US troops, in this year's "Balikatan" (shoulder-to-shoulder) drills.

This year's exercise, scheduled to last until May 19 focuses on humanitarian and disaster response operations, and search and rescue activities in urban areas in Nueva Ecija, Aurora, Isabela and Samar provinces.

Soldiers from Australia and Japan also are participating in the exercises, Sayson said.

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Last week, three Chinese warships visited the Philippines - for the first time since 2010 - to "bolster camaraderie and understanding between the two navies through naval diplomacy", according to the Armed Forces of the island country.

With that, Sayson said all participating units, whether on staff exercise or command post exercise, will focus on responses to the particular scenario.

His Filipino counterpart, Lt. Gen. Oscar Lactao, said the exercise priority was chosen based on the guidance from Duterte. If you would like to discuss another topic, look for a relevant article.

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