The Philippines and the United States are looking at a larger joint training exercises next year, meanwhile, former Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff Jose Faustino Jr. formally took over the helm of the Department of National Defense (DND) on Monday.
Delegations of both the Philippine Army (PA) and the US Army Pacific (USARPAC), during a meeting in Hawaii, agreed on the possibility of holding larger “Salaknib” joint training exercises starting next year.
In a statement Sunday, Army spokesperson Xerxes Trinidad said the PA and USARPAC planning delegations reviewed the updated mission statement and area of operations, strategic objectives, exercise timeline, and scaling up of “Salaknib” during a meeting in Hawaii.
“The PA and the USARPAC are gearing to scale up the 2023 edition of the combined Salaknib exercise during the planning conference attended by delegations from both armies in Hawaii from June 27 to June 30, 2022,” Trinidad said.
Both militaries are expected to field more participants to train in a series of exercises. The number of participating Philippine and US units as well as the exercise area will be announced later.
“Salaknib,” which means shield in Ilocano dialect, is an annual bilateral combined exercise meant to enhance the defense readiness of Filipino and American troops by developing tactical interoperability.
Some 2,200 Filipino and US Army troops trained in Central Luzon during the first quarter of this year, focusing on capability development of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, the PA’s primary combined arms and rapid deployment unit.
The 20-day exercise started on March 5 this year.
Army chief Lt. Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. earlier said the combined exercise is a testament to the “long-standing bilateral relations” between the Philippines and the US that will contribute to the “pursuit of a common goal of maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific region.”
In another development, newly installed DND chief Faustino failed to personally attend his first flag raising ceremony in Camp Aguinaldo due to his reinfection of COVID-19.
Faustino, who is fully vaccinated and had received booster shots, is expected to physically report for work within the week.
On Friday, he vowed to fulfill the mandate of the DND “to the best of my abilities.”
He also said he will continue the policies and programs laid down by his predecessor, Delfin Lorenzana, in defending the country’s territorial integrity and protecting the Filipino people.
“Hangad ko na ipagpatuloy natin ang ating matatag na pagtutulungan upang lalo pa natin mapalakas ang pagtataguyod ng kapayapaan, pagtatanggol ng kalayaan, at mapangalagaan ang kaligtasan ng bawat mamamayang Pilipino,” Faustino said.
“Rest assured that we will continue the good work you have started at DND. We will continue consulting you in the coming days because of your experience and accomplishments at DND and the country.” Faustino told his predecessor, ex-DND Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.
“We will ensure the smooth implementation of our modernization program in order to strengthen the protection of our sovereignty, defense of our territorial integrity and ensuring the continuity of our peaceful way of life,” he added.
“Indeed, the future will be so bright with us working in unity manifested by our consistent and synergized actions.”
Faustino, who retired from the AFP in November last year, was appointed by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to the DND post.
Due to technicalities, he will first serve as an Undersecretary. Under the law, retired military officials may only be appointed to a government post a year after their retirement.