Despite Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte's insistent announcements that he wants to stop the joint military exercises with the United States in the country, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) will open this year's exercises with US Armed Forces in a simple ceremony at Camp Aguinaldo in Manila tomorrow.
The announcement was made by US Armed Forces Major, Frank Sayson, the designated spokersperson for the joint exercise, a week after Duterte announced that he wanted a joint military exercise with China in Sulu.
Those expected to witness the opening ceremony are Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, AFP Chief Eduaro Ano, acting Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo US Ambassador Sung Kim and dozens of local and foreign journalists from China and Taiwan.
The Balikatan (Shoulder to Shoulder in English) exercises started in 2002, with the purpose of launching a global campaign against terrorism after the infamous September 11, 2001 terror attack on New York's twin towers.
But this year's Balikatan exercise will focus more on Human Assistance and Disaster Response (HADR) instead on the previous military tactics and jungle survival. The military collaboration will also include counter terrorism exercises.
Philippines suffered two major disasters in 2013 for which US forces contributed to the relief efforts. The first was the September 2013 Zamboanga siege where 400 separatist rebels stormed Zamboanga City and displaced more than 100,000 civilians and three months later, a super typhoon known as Haiyan hit Central Philippines that killed at least 6,300 people.
Areas where the exercises will be held include Casiguran, Aurora; in Maconacon, Isabela; Sabtang in Batanes; Calayan Island town of Cagayan province and Guian, Samar in Eastern Visayas, a typhoon prone area.
But earlier, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon announced that he would start consulting with the Department of National Defense to discuss the possibility of holding joint exercises with China in Sulu Sea - an ocean in the Southern Philippines known for its piracy attacks initiated by suspected members of the Abu Sayyaf.
US and China have been exchanging heated remarks because of their diverse foreign policy on the disputed South China Sea.