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U.S., Philippines Discuss Balikatan 2003

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 28, 2003 – There will be a "Balikatan" activity in the Philippines this year, but the shape and size of the activity remain to be worked out, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said at the Pentagon today.

Balikatan 2002, a joint exercise between the United States and the Philippines, was the 18th in a series that began in 1981.

Following a meeting with Philippine Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes, Rumsfeld said the United States will work with the leaders of the Philippines to hammer out a plan acceptable to both countries.

A sticking point is a provision of the Philippine Constitution that forbids foreign troops from conducting military operations in the Philippines. U.S. troops helping train the Philippines armed forces or participating on exercises with them, present no problems.

Rumsfeld said whatever plan the two countries come up with will build on the success of Balikatan 2002. "Balikitan" is Tagalog, a major language spoken in the Philippines, for "shoulder to shoulder."

In last year's exercise, U.S. special operations forces trained Philippine army units going after Abu Sayyaf terrorists on Basilon Island off the big island on Mindanao. U.S. civil affairs forces also worked with Philippine government officials to build roads, dig wells and provide medical service to the people of Basilon.

Rumsfeld said that in a perfect world the Philippine government would have the institutional capability to deal with terrorism on their islands, and contribute to the worldwide effort against terror. "(The Philippines) are in a position today that they would like our assistance and support so they can develop those capabilities more than they currently are," he said. "The goal with the Philippine government is to deal aggressively with terrorist groups."

Rumsfeld did not put a timetable on setting up Balikatan 2003. The secretary said that previously announced U.S. troop strengths for the operation will also change.

Rumsfeld said the United States looks forward to working closely with the Philippines. He said the island nation not only is a long-term ally of the United States, but also is a stalwart foe of terrorism worldwide and within its borders.

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