Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said he sees no problem with the cancellation of what could have been the last “Balikatan” exercises between the Philippines and the United States due to the threats posed by the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) outbreak.
“We have no problem. As I said, we had six months to do the major exercises but we give them (US) the decision to go ahead or not,” he said in a message to reporters late Friday.
Earlier, Lorenzana said Washington DC always has the option to cancel any planned military maneuvers within the 180-day period following the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) in February.
“But events were overtaken by this (Covid-19). And since foreigners are banned from coming, then the exercises are canceled,” he said.
This year’s “Balikatan” exercises were originally scheduled from May 4 to 15.
More than 10,000 troops from the two countries were supposed to take part in the annual exercises.
Early this week, the United States Indo-Pacific Command in Camp Smith, Hawaii said the decision to cancel the exercises was “due to concerns for the health and safety of the participating forces and local population near the planned exercise area.”
“In light of the extraordinary circumstances surrounding (the) Covid-19 pandemic and in the best interest of the health and safety of both countries’ forces, it is prudent to cancel Balikatan 2020,” US Indo-Pacific Command chief, Admiral Philip Davidson, said in a statement.
He, however, maintained that Washington DC remains committed to the US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty. PNA.GOV.PH