GOING FULL BLAST. AFP chief Gen. Jose Faustino Jr. (right) and US Indo-Pacific Command chief Adm. John Aquilino (left) hold a virtual presser on the sidelines of the Mutual Defense Board and Security Engagement Board meeting in Camp Aguinaldo on Thursday (Oct. 14, 2021). Faustino said the annual "Balikatan" exercises between the Philippines and United States will go full scale next year. (Photo courtesy of AFP)

MANILA – The annual "Balikatan" exercises between the Philippines and United States will go full scale next year, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Gen. Jose Faustino Jr. said Thursday.

"Yes, the relationship between our two Armed Forces especially now that for this MDB-SEB (Mutual Defense Board and Security Engagement Board) activity, we have lined up number of activities that will further strengthen the bilateral relationship between our two militaries and as mentioned, we will go full scale 'Balikatan' next year," Faustino said in a virtual presser shortly after the 2021 MDB-SEB meeting in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.

He also added that cooperation between the AFP and the United States has improved when it comes to maritime security, humanitarian assistance disaster relief, cyber security and also information sharing among others.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the holding of the "Balikatan" exercises was canceled in 2020.

Meanwhile, the number of activities and participants during this year's exercises held from April 12 to 23 was scaled down in compliance with health and safety protocols.

US Indo-Pacific Command head, Adm. John Aquilino, who was present at the MDB-SEB, said the alliance between the two countries continues to grow stronger.

"We value the capabilities, capacity, expertise that our Philippine counterparts bring but its strengthened by our increased operations and exercises together. Gen Faustino has the lead for the next 'Balikatan', I believe we will look to renew and get back to a full scale event and we will both look for opportunities to increase the complexity, the scope all the way to look towards new partners participating in the future," Aquilino said.

Faustino and Aquilino’s meeting resulted in the successful completion of the MDB-SEB, ensuring continued, robust relations between American and Filipino forces.

The US and Philippines agreed to hold over 300 activities for 2021.

“We were privileged to witness the advancing level of cooperation, and communication that both the Philippines and United States impart through the successful MDB-SEB meeting. I am optimistic that our alliance will continue to be robust in view of new and emerging security challenges that confront our nations. After all, we share the same goal of keeping peace and stability in this region,” Faustino said.

The MDB was established in 1958 and the SEB was established in 2006.

The two boards form the annual MDB-SEB, which coordinates a framework for defense and security cooperation between the US and Philippine militaries.

“For more than 100 years, the people of our two countries have shared a deep friendship. This friendship is based on values, to include upholding freedom for all people,” Aquilino said.

“The sanctity of freedom was the foundation of our alliance and it is still applicable today," he added. (PNA)