The U.S. military will begin annual military drills with Philippine forces next month, despite tense relations with President Rodrigo Duterte, AFP reports.
The 10-day drills, known as Exercise Balikatan, reaffirm U.S. commitment to the 70-year alliance. Duterte had been very critical of Washington early on in his tenure, questioning the Philippine relationship with the U.S. while hinting at improving relations with China.
The annual exercise will focus on counterterrorism and disaster response as the Philippines battles Islamic militants in its southern regions.
"It will be scenario-based like [preparing for] a big storm hitting the Philippines or the possibility of terrorism," Balikatan Exercise Spokesman and Philippine Major Celeste Frank Sayson told AFP. "We are safe to say there will be no more live-fire exercises. We [will] focus on humanitarian and civil assistance," he added.
Previous Balikatan Exercises have included simulations of protecting or retaking territory as a response to Chinese territorial disputes in the South China Sea. Duterte has put the territorial dispute to the side, instead perusing economic concessions.
U.S. and Philippine Army soldiers unload from CH-47 Chinooks during refueling operations at the Combine Logistics Point (CLP) at an Antique, Philippines airfield demonstrating the ability to refuel aircraft in remote locations during exercise Balikatan, April 14, 2016. Photo Credit: U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Doug HarveyPhilippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana stated that the exercises would return their focus to combating terrorism, which he describes as the country’s biggest security threat. Terrorism and piracy have been a growing problem in the southern Philippines, with some terror groups pledging allegiance to ISIS.