Home' Defence Review Asia : DRA May 2013 Contents THE PHILIPPINES
18 DefenceReviewAsia | MAY 2013
The USA attended with a squadron of twelve F/A-18
Hornets and eight other aircraft, including Okinawa-
based MV-22B Ospreys of the US Marine Corps
(USMC). Balikatan marked their second regional
exercise following Exercise Cobra Gold in February.
They continued familiarisation training ahead of
their integration with the 31st Marine Expeditionary
Unit (MEU) in an upcoming mid-year rotation. The
Philippine Air Force (PAF) contributed nine aircraft
and the Philippine Navy two vessels.
Interestingly, the 31st MEU contributed only one
company from its Battalion Landing Team (BLT), this
being embarked aboard just one ship, USS Tortuga.
This was in sharp contrast to previous years when
the entire MEU has participated. It is unclear whether
this was because of ongoing bellicosity from the
Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) or
due to sequestration beginning to bite. Australia, who
is considering joining future Balikatan exercises, sent
observers to the Philippines.
The event was somewhat overshadowed by
heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsular. Last
year, 4-7 CAV from the US Army's 2nd Infantry
Division forward-deployed in South Korea was in
attendance. This year, however, such Korean-based
units were absent as they squared up against DPRK
bellicosity. Defence Secretary Voltaire T. Gazmin
declared the Philippines would allow the USA to
station troops there if the DPRK instigated a war.
"It would be logical to assume that, in the event of
an attack on the Philippines or on our treaty ally, the
US would be allowed to use our bases," he stated.
There was some degree of trepidation that Philippine
involvement in the 1950-53 Korean War could serve
as a kind of precedent in any potential future conflict
on the peninsular.
The Philippines has been seeking closer ties with
the USA, compelled by brushes with China as it
throws its weight around the South China Sea. This
festering issue has seen the Philippines seeking to
introduce new equipment at hitherto unseen levels.
For a long time the Philippines has been so focussed
on internal security that it badly neglected its external-
defence mandate, something China has been able
to take advantage of. The Philippines is now seeking
to redress that structural imbalance. At the Balikatan
opening ceremony, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert
del Rosario took a swipe at China's "excessive and
exaggerated" territorial claims. "Regional peace and
stability had been placed at serious risk," he stated.
As an example of modernisation, Colonel
Miguel Ernesto G. Okol, spokesman of the PAF,
told Defence Review Asia that the air force had
numerous acquisition projects on the go -- twelve
FA-50 fighters, medium-range maritime patrol aircraft,
medium-lift aircraft, light transport aircraft, light
attack helicopters, a close air support replacement
for the OV-10A Bronco, and four over-the-horizon
radars. Last December, President Benigno Aquino
III signed the AFP Modernisation Act that allocated
PHP75 billion over the coming five years. To put this
in perspective, just 33 billion was spent in a 15-year
period before Aquino gained office.
In an exclusive interview with the author, Lieutenant
General Noel A. Coballes, commanding general of
the Philippine Army, revealed his force was increasing
its level of training with US Army counterparts.
LTGEN Coballes is highly respected thanks to his
frontline-command pedigree. He is one of the last of a
breed of commanders with extensive field experience,
including as head of the First Scout Ranger Regiment
(FSRR). He stated he was seeking to improve the
quality of non-commissioned officers as part of a
professionalism drive in the army.
The Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP)
Bayanihan was introduced to involve all stakeholders
in attaining internal security rather than considering
it a purely military matter. The IPSP has proved
successful, particularly in regard to the peace
process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF)
via the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro
(FAB). LTGEN Coballes spoke positively of this
peace process: "Definitely, in terms of the MILF,
we've reduced the number of incidents after they
signed the framework agreement." He was upbeat
about the fight against communist rebels too: "You
could say there's been a reduction in the strength
and violence of the communist movement, and I think
even in terms of people support." Not all the aims of
the IPSP will be met by its 2016 timeline, which will
probably result in it being extended. Mid-term general
elections take place on 13 May and the army is
heavily involved in maintaining security on the ground.
Events in Lahad Datu in Sabah (see separate
article) took the government completely by
surprise, and Naval Forces Western Mindanao
(NAVFORWEST) is maintaining a cordon to prevent
further supporters of Jamalul Kiram III, claimant to the
title of Sultan of Sulu, from infiltrating Sabah. To date,
it appears these troubles in East Malaysia are not
threatening progress on FAB talks that are, ironically,
being chaired by Malaysia.
Soldiers of the First Scout Ranger Regiment (FSRR) train on
the periphery of Exercise Balikatan 2013. (Gordon Arthur)
PHILIPPINE MILITARY GEARS UP Gordon Arthur / MANILA
e bilateral Philippine-US series of Balikatan exercises occurs annually. is year the 29th event in the series, involving
approximately 8,000 troops, took place from 5-17 April. e exercise focussed on humanitarian assistance and disaster
relief (HA/DR) training within the central Luzon region, the fourth time the exercise has had such a focus.
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