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US, PHL scale down troops for 2017 Balikatan exercises

Both the Philippines and the United States have decided to use this year's Balikatan exercises for humanitarian missions, instead of training soldiers in traditional "war games," Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman Restituto Padilla said on Thursday.

Padilla — during an Air Force symposium in Shangri La at the Fort — told reporters that this was part of the two countries' decision to scale back military drills or "live fire exercises" in response to President Rodrigo Duterte's disdain for their longstanding defense alliance.

"Ngayon ay magre-reduce dahil ifo-focus natin yung mga kakayahan ng mga puwersa natin na siyang nangunguna pag nagkaroon ng mga bagyo," he said, without revealing by how much the number of troops to be sent to the Balikatan will be slashed.

Padilla explained that the annual bilateral exercises with the US have taken on a new focus, which is humanitarian assistance and disaster response operations.

"Balikatan has undertaken a new phase which is more concentrated on expected events," Padilla said.

"These are threats that come from weather disturbances, hazards, so this is the reason why a refocusing of Balikatan has been shifted to humanitarian assistance, disaster response, and counter terrorism. These are the issues of the day that need action," he added.

He denied that the scaling down of the Balikatan exercises was meant to downplay the Philippines' ties with US.

"Hindi naman nangangahulugan na isinangtabi na natin ang ating alyansa," he said.

Like the Philippines, the US has also reduced the troops participating in the military exercises after the shift in focus.

"Similarly as we have reduced, they [the US troops] have also reduced because they will only put in the necessary personnel who will be involved in the areas that we have focused in this year," Padilla said.

Shortly after assuming the presidency, President Rodrigo Duterte said he wanted to end the Philippines' joint military exercises with the US. — MDM, GMA News