The U.S. and the Philippines Are Holding the Largest Balikatan in History

But U.S. claims it is not a show of force. 

Close to 9,000 troops and personnel are participating in this year’s Balitakan Exercises, an annual military training and cooperation between the Philippine and U.S. militaries. Around 5,100 American troops and 3,800 Filipino troops will participate in the exercises, the largest Balikatan in history. 

Balikatan (translated as “Shoulder to shoulder”) is one of the cooperative measures spawned by the Visiting Forces Agreement between the U.S. and the Philippines. It involves crisis-action planning, enhanced training on counterterrorism operations, and interoperability enhancement exercises, among others.

“This year’s event is indeed remarkable as we are fortunate to enforce a full implementation of our exercise with approximately 8,900 participants and observers from various armed forces which is a remarkable development compared to the previous years’ conduct of this same exercise,” said Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Gen. Andres Centino.

This year’s Balikatan Exercise will be held across Luzon until April 8 and will be led by the Northern Luzon Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. 

Not a Show of Force for China

Although this is the largest Balikatan Exercises in history in terms of the number of personnel involved, it is not a show of force for China. 

U.S. exercise director and commanding general of the U.S.’s 3rd Marine Division Major Gen. Jay Bargeron, insisted that people should not read more into the annual military exercises between the two countries. It is not a warning or a show of force for China and its expansion in the West Philippine Sea. 


“No, not at all [a show of force]. Balikatan 2022 is a tremendous training opportunity and is aimed at improving our security, defensive capabilities, and our readiness to respond to any crisis anywhere. It is designed to enhance our interoperability, strengthen cooperation across the border, and contribute to peace and stability in the region,” Bargeron said in a report from Manila Bulletin. 

‘Security is a Shared Responsibility’

According to AFP Chief of Staff Cenitino, allies need to cooperate for security interests. 

“Security is a shared responsibility. We cannot just defend ourselves. We have to have a defense cooperation with our allies so that with synergy, cooperation, and collaboration, we will have a stronger or more sustainable security environment. We cannot just plan or defend or train by ourselves. It is important that we continue to engage with our allies,” said Centino.

The photo in the main image is from the Balikatan 2019 at Colonel Ernesto Ravina Air Base, Philippines, April 10, 2019. 

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