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Philippine army Lt. Col. Henry Bellan, left, and U.S. Army Lt. Col. John Garrity bury a time capsule during the construction of a footbridge in San Narciso, Zambales, Balikatan 2013
U.S. Marines participated in a martial arts class taught by Philippine Marine Corps instructors, Balikatan 2010 (BK ’10)
U.S. Navy captains are briefed on Philippine and U.S. Navy events at a pre-sail conference aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Essex, Balikatan 2008
Philippine Marines and villagers from Tiptipon, Jolo pose with U.S. Marines and Sailors assigned to the 31st Marine Service Support Group, Balikatan 2006.

Balikatan is the code name for annual military exercises between the Philippines and the United States. It is a Tagalog word meaning "shoulder-to-shoulder". The May 2014 exercises is the 30th iteration of the Balikatan exercises.[1] The exercises have been the cornerstone of Philippines-United States military relations since the U.S. bases in the Philippines closed.[2]

In 2014, Australian armed forces participated in Balikatan exercises.[3] Australia has a visiting forces agreement, a type of a status of forces agreement, with the Philippines called Philippine-Australia Status of Visiting Forces Agreement.[3] The Philippines is open to other countries participating provided that they too have a similar forces agreement.[3]


The U.S. acquired the Philippines from Spain after the Spanish-American War of 1898 and then fought the Philippine-American War against Philippine revolutionaries to secure their rule. After both wars, the Philippines was a colony of the United States from 1898 to 1946. The United States granted the Philippines independence in 1946.[4]

The Mutual Defense Treaty was signed in 1951 and ratified in 1952 by the governments of the United States and the Philippines. The purpose of the Treaty was to “strengthen the fabric of peace” in the Pacific, by formally adopting an agreement to defend each other’s territory in the case of external attack.[5] In line with this treaty, the United States maintained several military bases in the Philippines, including Subic Bay Naval Base and the Clark Air Base. In 1992, the bases closed after the Philippine Senate rejected in a very close vote a treaty that would extend the bases' lease.

The Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) was signed by the governments of the Philippines and the United States in 1998, and came in to effect in 1999. This was the first military agreement since the closing of U.S. bases in 1992. The VFA outlined a set of guidelines for the conduct and protection of American troops visiting the Philippines. The Agreement also stipulated the terms and conditions for American military to pass through or land in Philippine territory. The VFA is a reciprocal agreement in that not only does it outline the guidelines for U.S. troops visiting the Philippines but also for Philippine troops visiting the United States.[6]


The Visiting Forces Agreement led to the establishment of the Balikatan exercises, as well as a variety of other cooperative measures.[7] They are structured to maintain and develop the security relationship between the two countries’ armed forces through crisis-action planning, enhanced training to conduct counterterrorism operations, and promoting interoperability of the forces.[1]

Over the years the exercises have expanded to include surrounding other countries in Southeast Asia. The training has also had a shifting focus. During the U.S.-led “War on Terror” the annual Balikatan Exercises focused on training for counterterrorism missions[1] There has been some controversy over these exercises; a growing number of Philippine people are angry over the continued presence of U.S. troops in the Philippines.[8]

These military exercises contribute directly to the Philippine armed forces' efforts to root out Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiyah terrorists and bring development to formerly terrorist-plagued areas, notably Basilan and Jolo. They include not only combined military training but also civil-military operations and humanitarian projects. The International Military Education and Training (IMET) program is the largest in the Pacific and the third-largest in the world, and a Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA) was signed in November 2002.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Camp General Emilio Aguinaldo, "PH-US Balikatan Exercises to Start in May" Armed Forces of the Philippine, April 21, 2014
  2. ^ Tritten, Travis J. (April 15, 2011). "wards Digital Editions Contact Us Home Delivery". Stars & Stripes. Retrieved 5 May 2014. 
  3. ^ a b c Depasupil, William B (May 16, 2014). "AFP open to more foreign allies joining ‘Balikatan’". The Manila Times. Retrieved 19 May 2014. 
  4. ^ "Philippines: A Country Study" Federal Research Division, U.S. Library of Congress
  5. ^ The Avalon Project, "Mutual Defense Treaty Between the United States and the Republic of the Philippines; August 30, 1951" Yale Law School, Lillian Goldman Law Library
  6. ^ "Visiting Forces Agreement" U.S. Department of State, 1998
  7. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions: Visiting Forces Agreement" Presidential Commission on the Visiting Forces Agreement
  8. ^ Sandy Araneta, "Student activists protesting Balikatan deface US embassy seal" The Philippine Star, April 17, 2012

External links[edit]