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Philippines and U.S. to cut back on joint exercises next year

November 23, 2016 (Photo Credit: Chief Petty Officer Lowell Whitman/Navy)
MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine armed forces chief said Wednesday that five military exercises with the United States, including at least two major naval drills, will be scrapped next year at the direction of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Gen. Ricardo Visaya told reporters that U.S. officials respected the Philippines' proposal to reduce the number of drills to 258, or five fewer than this year's exercises.

On Tuesday, the two allies held a meeting of their Mutual Defense Board and Security Engagement Board co-chaired by Visaya and Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., head of the U.S. Pacific Command.

Visaya said the scrapped drills include an Amphibious Landing Exercise and Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training, both major naval exercises that include territorial defense training.

He said next year's exercises will focus on humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and counterterrorism.

Duterte has said he wants to chart a foreign policy less oriented toward Washington, and wants to expand security ties with China and Russia.

Armed forces spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said the 258 exercises include small drills involving only a few soldiers, but that 13 are considered major drills.

Padilla said the large-scale "Balikatan" or "shoulder-to-shoulder" exercises will be retained but will focus on humanitarian and disaster response.

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