US Army Pacific Soldiers commenced the military exercises in the Philippines known as the Salaknib 2022 with the 1st Brigade Combat Team of the Philippine Army. The opening of the exercises was on March 5 at Fort Magsaysay, Philippines.

Salaknib is an annual bilateral military exercise led by the Philippine Army and sponsored by the US Army Pacific. It aims to strengthen the interoperability and capacity of the two armies over a wide array of military operations. In accordance with the Mutual Defense Treaty and the Visiting Forces Agreement, these types of exercises have been done to strengthen ties between the Philippines and the United States. These two countries share a large military history with one another.

Deputy Commanding General Maj. Gen Matthew W. McFarlane of the US Army Pacific and Exercise Director Brig. Gen. Alvin B. Flores from the Philippine Army led the ceremonial rites. Around 1,100 US troops alongside their Philippine Army peers are scheduled to take part in Salaknib 2022, which lasts from March 5 to 24 at Colonel Ernesto Rabina Air Base and Fort Magsaysay.

“The United States just published an Indo-Pacific strategy,” said McFarlane. “Two key aspects of that strategy are to build connections in the region and to bolster security in pursuit of a free and open Pacific. This exercise is a demonstration not only to each other but to all those around the world with inclinations of not abiding by a free and open Pacific.”

U.S. Army Pacific Deputy Commanding General Maj. Gen. Matthew W. McFarlane receives a plaque of appreciation from Philippine Army Exercise Control Group Director Brig. Gen. Alvin V. Flores on behalf of the Philippine Army during the opening ceremony of Salaknib 2022 at Fort Magsaysay, Nueva Ecija, Philippines, March 5, 2022. Salaknib aims to strengthen joint force relations and increase mission readiness and interoperability between the U.S. Army and the Philippine Army. (DVIDS, U.S. Army photo by Spc. Darbi Colson/28th Public Affairs Detachment.). Source: https://www.dvidshub.net/image/7079291/salaknib-2022-opening-ceremony
US Army Pacific Deputy Commanding General Maj. Gen. Matthew W. McFarlane receives a plaque of appreciation from Philippine Army Exercise Control Group Director Brig. Gen. Alvin V. Flores, on behalf of the Philippine Army during the opening ceremony of Salaknib 2022 at Fort Magsaysay, Nueva Ecija, Philippines, on March 5, 2022. Salaknib aims to strengthen joint force relations and increase mission readiness and interoperability between the US Army and the Philippine Army. (DVIDS, US Army photo by Spc. Darbi Colson/28th Public Affairs Detachment)

The US Army has sent the 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, 17th Field Artillery Brigade, 413th Contracting Command, 25th Division Sustainment Brigade, 130th Engineer Brigade, the 5th Security Force Assistance Brigade, and others to take part in this year’s annual exercise.

Soldiers from both countries will engage in a series of field training, staff exercises, amphibious landing training, and medical training. The forces will also share information on best practices in multiple operational fields like engineering, military intelligence, fire support, and counter-improvised explosive devices.

“Salaknib, which means “shield” in Ilocano (one of the many local languages in the Philippines), is a testament to our enduring ties with the US Army. It is anchored on the Philippine-US Mutual Defense Treaty and has been ongoing since 2015,” said PA Commander, Lt. Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr., after the inspection for the proposed training sites last January.

This year’s exercise also features the pioneering US validated Jungle Operations Training Course instructed by the 25th Infantry Division Lightning Team along with troops from the 2-27th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team.

“Bringing the Lightning Academy’s jungle course to the Philippines is something we really wanted to do,” said 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team Commander Col. Josh Bookout. “When you experience tough training together, you form a closer bond, and that’s what Salaknib is all about, building relationships.”

“Just remember, together we are one team, and this one team is prepared for one fight if it ever comes to that, and this exercise demonstrates that capability,” said McFarlane as he wrapped up his opening remarks.

What is the US Indo-Pacific Strategy?

Last February, on the backdrop of a growing Chinese influence, the Biden Administration announced its commitment to an Indo-Pacific region that is “free and open, connected, prosperous, secure, and resilient.”

The goal is to reinstate the United States as an Indo-Pacific power through close coordination with its regional allies. The framework will pursue an Indo-Pacific region that was said to be:

(1) Free and Open so that governments can make their own decision about their sovereignty, specifically on the region’s seas, skies, and cyberspace; (2) Connected so that the US and its allies in the region, namely Australia, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Thailand, and the Philippines could coordinate effectively and move in collective capacity to further strengthen QUAD and ASEAN; (3) Prosperous, as the region was said to be closely related to the American economy due to supply chains; (4) Secure so that the US together with its allies could improve Indo-Pacific security against all coercive powers and aggression, specifically to maintain peace in the Taiwan Strait and the Korean Peninsula; and (5) Resilient, so that environmental and climate challenges, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic, are kept in check by all the governments involved.

US Army Pacific Deputy Commanding General Maj. Gen. Matthew W. McFarlane and Philippine Army 1st Brigade Combat Team Acting Commander Col. Jose Vladimir R. Cagara arrive at the opening ceremony of Salaknib 2022 at Fort Magsaysay, Nueva Ecija, Philippines, March 5, 2022. The annual exercise aims to enhance the strategic readiness capabilities of the US Army and Philippine Army while building on the shared vision of defending peace and security in the region in order to maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific. (DVIDS, US Army photo by Spc. Darbi Colson/28th Public Affairs Detachment)

Is the Philippines Willing To Support The US?

The Chinese have since ramped up its aggression in the South China Sea, which the Philippines now calls the West Philippine Sea, due to the Chinese’s tendency to grab land and sea territory from them and other countries that claim islands within their Exclusive Economic Zone. It has claimed a majority of the sea within the region since 2014, prompting a diplomatic outcry from Southeast Asian nations and, notably, Taiwan, which has had to deal with an increasing number of Chinese ships and warplanes in its territory in 2021 and this year currently.

The Philippines, during Philippine President Duterte’s 6-year term, supported the Chinese as he virtually gave the islands away for next to nothing. More so, he did not push the Philippines’ historic win against China in a case filed with the Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2016, stating that China had no historical claim on the maritime areas within its so-called nine-dash line. However, he has since backtracked and moved toward the US sphere of influence in recent years, moving slowly back into good diplomatic relations with the U.S.

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Despite campaigns against crucial defense agreements and leaning toward Chinese influence during those six years, Duterte has expressed his willingness to open the country up again to US forces if the Russo-Ukrainian war manages to spill over in Asia. This report comes after the Philippine President threatened to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement as his right-hand man, former Police Chief and current Senator Ronald “Bato” (means “Rock” in Filipino) Dela Rosa’s US visa was canceled.

Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez, who is attending the upcoming ASEAN-US Summit in Washington DC, expressed the President’s support for the US and Ukraine. The Philippine President stated that any military facility could be used by the American forces and that he was ready to support the US in its military endeavors.

“Let’s pray it does not happen, but if it spreads out in the Asian region for some reason or another, the President obviously sees that need for us to make a choice, and our choice is obviously… since we have an MDT (Mutual Defense Treaty) with the US, we have this special relationship and military alliance, he said he is allowing the use of facilities,” he explained.

When asked about Duterte and the President’s relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Ambassador explained that Duterte knew the Russian invasion shouldn’t have happened as it was unprovoked.

The Ambassador also expressed concern about Russia’s nuclear capabilities as it was a threat not just for Ukraine but the entire world.

“You can just imagine the thin line that they have to traverse, both for the US and the NATO nations. Let’s just hope and pray that this will not be something like what happened in World War 2, we have to always think back on what happened during those days when Hitler decided to go to Poland and extend it to the rest of Europe, and it spilled over to the Asian region,” he explained.

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