MANILA, Philippines -- Multinational forces began humanitarian and civic assistance projects as part of exercise Balikatan 2019 on March 12.
Philippine, U.S., and Australian forces attended ground-breaking ceremonies for the renovation of three elementary schools in Orani, Bataan Province; Pangil, Laguna Province; and San Juan, Batangas Province as well as a health clinic in Moncada, Tarlac Province.
Construction projects, health engagements, and community relations events will take place to improve local infrastructure, teach lifesaving medical skills, and strengthen ties between Philippine communities and Philippine, U.S. and Australian military forces.
The events are a preparatory part of this year’s Exercise Balikatan, which officially takes place from April 1 to 12.
Balikatan is an exercise between the Republic of the Philippines and the United States, and also involves participation from Australia. Balikatan is a Tagalog phrase for “shoulder-to-shoulder,” which characterizes the spirit of the exercise and represents the partnership between the U.S. and the Philippines.
During Balikatan 2019, U.S. and Philippine forces will conduct amphibious operations, live-fire training, urban operations, aviation operations, and counterterrorism response. All events will take place in Luzon, Palawan, and Mindoro.
This will be the first Exercise Balikatan to incorporate the USS Wasp paired with the United States Marines Corps’ F-35B Lightning II aircraft. Together they represent an increase in military capability committed to a free and open Indo-Pacific. Participating in Balikatan demonstrates their ability to forward deploy in support of an ally should a crisis or natural disaster occur.
Balikatan 2019 will also bring together ASEAN members for an International Observers Program. The program aims to promote greater defense cooperation with ASEAN and other key allies and partners, show multinational coordination where the observers can mutually exchange meaningful ideas and best practices, and showcase the joint and combined air, sea, and ground operation of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and U.S. Armed Forces.
This year’s Balikatan focuses on maritime security and amphibious capabilities, as well as multinational interoperability through military exchanges. Exercises like Balikatan strengthen international partnerships and the participating militaries’ abilities to rapidly respond to crises throughout the Indo-Pacific region.