"Shouldering the Load Together"
The Balikatan series is an annual event aimed at improving Republic of the Philippines-United States combined planning, combat readiness, and interoperability while enhancing security relations and demonstrating US resolve to support the Republic of the Philippines against external aggression.
Balikatan is conducted to meet Republic of the Philippines-US obligations under the Mutual Defense Treaty and to fulfill RP-US mutual training and readiness requirements. The Philippine Constitution does not allow long-term basing by another country in the Philippines. The last of the US military bases at Subic and Clark were closed in the early 1990s. The first Balikatan exercise was conducted in 1991. In 1995, the Philippines ended Balikatan because of a dispute over the Visiting Forces Agreement. That agreement gives the United States jurisdiction over crimes committed by military personnel while on duty in a foreign country. It was reinstated in May 1999, in spite of protests from the Catholic Church and other anti-US elements in the Philippines. The Visiting Forces Agreement provided for expanded military cooperation after coming into force in 1999. The Balikatan exercises resumed in 1999 after being suspended.
In late 2001, the US planned to use the Balikatan 2002 exercise as a springboard for expanded counter-terrorism cooperation with the Republic of the Philippines following the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001. This cooperation, Operation Freedom Eagle, was initially intended to be combined with the counter-terrorism training portion of the exercise, Balikatan 2002-1. Following the end of the exercise, the mission was made more permanent as part of Operation Enduring Freedom - Philippines (OEF-P).
More than 5,000 US and Filipino soldiers began war games in the region in early May 2014 at a time of increased tension – especially from the regional power, China - over America’s growing military footprint in the Pacific. The two-week naval exercises, dubbed "Balikatan" (shoulder-to-shoulder), are designed to help the two allies respond to emergencies, including piracy and natural disasters.
Nearly 5,500 American and Filipino service personnel participated in the naval games, which involved the participation of US F-18 fighter jets and soldiers involved in live ammo exercises, on the main island of Luzon. The maneuvers, held on the edge of the South China Sea, came just one week after Manila and Washington hammered out the details of a new security agreement, the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which gives the US Navy broader access to local ports and military bases.