MANILA -- The just-concluded "Balikatan" exercises highlighted the need for mutual cooperation and collaboration in today's complex security environment.

"This activity certainly highlighted the importance of mutual cooperation and collaboration. In today's complex global security environment, it is imperative that we continue to strengthen cooperation with allies and partners in order to expand and adapt these relationships in dealing with new challenges and threats, such as terrorism, transnational crimes, cyber and maritime security concerns, as well as natural and man-made disasters that transcend borders and boundaries," Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief-of-Staff, Gen. Benjamin Madrigal Jr., said in his speech during the closing ceremony of the annual joint military maneuvers at the AFP Commissioned Officers' Club in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City on Friday.

Madrigal emphasized that the yearly "Balikatan" exercises is one of the AFP's proactive measures to test strategies for interoperability and initiate innovations, particularly in combined operations.

"This ('Balikatan') has also bolstered the strong bonds between our countries, as we plan, work and operate side-by-side and shoulder-to-shoulder in our joint undertakings to continuously capacitate and empower our Armed Forces as we fulfill our respective responsibilities in maintaining peace and stability in the region," the AFP chief said.

Madrigal also noted that this year's "Balikatan" exercises has achieved all its primary goals and purposes.

He lauded military personnel from Japan, Canada, South Korea, United Kingdom, New Zealand, Thailand, and Singapore who served as observers during the two-week exercises, which began last April 1.

"We hope that through the International Observers' Program, you were able to gain insights on interoperability and combined operations, as well as to have meaningful exchange of ideas and best practices, which will eventually benefit our respective Armed Forces. We look forward to your continued support and participation in our similar future endeavors," Madrigal said.

Meanwhile, Australian Chief of Joint Operations Air Marshal Mel Hupfeld said the exercises enhance regional readiness and response capabilities to real-world challenges.

“The Philippines is an important regional partner to both Australia and the U.S.,” Air Marshal Hupfeld said. “Balikatan 2019 allowed all of the participants to build on existing military-to-military relationships and support the AFP's modernization efforts,” Hupfeld said.

This was the first iteration of Exercise Balikatan to incorporate the USS Wasp paired with the US Marine Corps’ F-35B Lightning II aircraft, which represent an increase in military capability committed to a free and open Indo-Pacific.

Their participation in Balikatan demonstrated their ability to forward deploy in support of an ally should a crisis or natural disaster occur.

“This training allows us to come together and operate as one team. Balikatan continues to prepare our armed forces to work together to confront any and all challenges that may jeopardize the mutual defense we have worked so hard to provide for one another,” US 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force head Lt. Gen. Eric Smith said. (PNA)