AFP: Balikatan 2023 will ensure combat readiness, upgrade skills of troops

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 16) — This year’s “Balikatan” between Filipino and American troops is seen to sharpen the skills and readiness of both forces as they undergo days of joint training exercises, with focus on naval drills, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said Thursday.

“For the AFP, we are doing this to ensure combat readiness,” Col. Michael Logico told CNN Philippines’ The Source. “It also upgrades skills and it assists us in finding out what we can learn from our partners and what they can learn from us.”

More than 17,000 personnel from both countries will be joining the exercises that will start on April 11. This number of participants is almost triple that of 2022.

Drills will be held in Palawan, Antique, Zambales, Batanes, and Tarlac.

Amid increasing tensions over disputed waters, Logico, who also serves as the Balikatan 2023 spokesperson, emphasized that all drills will be done inside the country’s territory.

Asked why there will be more naval exercises, Logico explained that Balikatan exercises in the past were conducted in land-locked military camps, which limits the involvement of naval forces.

As Philippine troops’ shift from internal security to external defense, this requires them “to be proficient in our maritime security, coastal defense, and our joint capabilities,” he pointed out.

Fisher group PAMALAKAYA has criticized the move, saying that “Filipino fishers do not deserve to be displaced from their livelihood only to provide security blanket to foreign forces carrying out military drills accompanied with live fire exercises at sea.”

Logico said this issue raised by the group is focused in the Ilocos area.

“We are not exercising any littoral live fire in Ilocos, we are doing this in the province of Zambales and we’ve already touched base with Governor (Hermogenes) Ebdane and with his assistance we are also reaching out to the fisherfolk of Zambales,” the spokesperson explained.

Several countries will also be present during the exercises as “observers,” like Japan, South Korea, France, the United Kingdom, Canada, and other ASEAN neighbors, Logico said.

CNN Philippines’ senior correspondent David Santos contributed to this report.