Philippines, US to hold joint war games

MANILA (AFP) – The Philippine armed forces will hold joint exercises with hundreds of United States (US) soldiers over the next two weeks, its Military Chief said on Sunday.

The annual war games between the military allies were cancelled in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

This year’s event will be on a smaller scale than in previous years due to the health crisis, Philippine Military Chief Lieutenant General Cirilito Sobejana told AFP.

About 700 US soldiers and up to 1,300 members of the Philippine military will take part – about a quarter of the usual attendance, Sobejana said.

“The exercise this year is a hybrid of virtual and physical activities,” he said.

Marines from the Philippines during joint exercises with the United States in Antique Province. PHOTO: AFP

“It’s a low-key exercise, just to keep the alliance – the contact – between the two armed forces.”

The US embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The announcement came hours after a phone call between US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and his Philippine counterpart Delfin Lorenzana, who last week tested positive for the coronavirus.

The resumption of joint military drills comes more than a year after Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gave notice that he planned to axe the Visiting Forces Agreement.

The plan to break the deal – central to hundreds of joint military exercises with the US every year and a major component of their nearly 70-year-old alliance – has been suspended.