Although an global tribunal ruled largely in favor of the Philippines previous year - a ruling that China ignored - Duterte has shelved the dispute in favor of currying economic favor with Beijing. "We hope it gets bigger", he said.
The change in focus of the drill from territorial defence operations was instructed by Duterte, who has indicated a shift in foreign policy to expand security ties with Russian Federation and China.
The number of troops, joined by some Australian and Japanese soldiers, has been considerably reduced as compared to previous years, when 11,000 U.S. and Philippine soldiers took part in the exercises.
Only two of the military's unified commands will participate in this year's Balikatan or joint military exercises with American troops from May 8 to 19.
"We will be having small arms military-to-military activities, some joint special operations activities which is really aligned to counter-terrorism", said Balikatan spokesperson for Philippines Major Frank Sayson.
In a joint press conference held on Monday (May 8) at Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City, shortly after the opening ceremonies of the Balikatan held at the AFP Commissioned Officers Club (AFP), Lt. Gen. Oscar Lactao and Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson, Balikatan exercise director of the Philippines and the United States, respectively, said that despite the scaling down of the exercises, the scenarios are equally important to them.
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First under the Duterte administration, the 10-day exercises will focus on humanitarian and disaster response and counter terrorism, and not on territorial defence operations.
American military aid played a crucial role in saving thousands of lives after Super Typhoon Haiyan, then the strongest storm ever recorded to make landfall globally, hit the Philippines in 2013.
"Under the current situation in the world, when calamities are becoming more severe, we have to devote more resources and time to this kind of activity, and also to counterterrorism", Lorenzana said.
His Filipino counterpart, Lt. Gen. Oscar Lactao, said the exercise's priority was chosen based on guidance from Duterte.
With that, Sayson said all participating units, whether on staff exercise or command post exercise, will focus on responses to the particular scenario. If you would like to discuss another topic, look for a relevant article.