Officials cite 'unprecedented success' as 2023 Balikatan ends

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 28) — Philippine and United States forces successfully concluded on Friday the largest Balikatan exercise between Manila and Washington.

Live fire exercises were held in Philippines waters for the first time—witnessed by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) commander in chief himself, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

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The joint drills were also held in multiple parts of the country, which was another first.

"These many firsts stamped the 38th Balikatan exercise as an unprecedented success," said AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Andres Centino. "The strong results of the exercise and the robust relationship like-minded allies are made more significant given the current security environment."

This year's Balikatan is the largest in history as it was joined by nearly 18,000 troops, mostly from the US. More than 100 Australian soldiers also participated for the first time.

"I am very grateful for the opportunity for the AFP to enhance its capabilities through this long-standing partnership," said Defense officer-in-charge Carlito Galvez. "The attendance of these countries in the Balikatan is a testament that the US and the Philippines are not alone in firmly espousing peace, security, and cooperation."

The AFP is already gearing up for next year's Balikatan. Centino said they are eyeing more locations and other armies from the country's allies.

Reports of a near collision between a Chinese ship and a Philippine Coast Guard vessel in Ayungin Shoal coincided with the closing ceremony of Balikatan.

The AFP said it will meet with the National Task Force on the West Philippine Sea for its next possible moves.

CNN Philippines correspondent Paige Javier contributed to this story.