Metro Manila, Philippines
— The Philippines is thinking of making the annual Balikatan exercises with the United States a multilateral event to include other allies, Defense chief Carlito Galvez Jr. said on Saturday.

In the past years, smaller groups of soldiers from Australia have joined Philippine and US troops in the joint military training, and delegations from other countries, such as Japan, have been sent as observers.

The Philippines has a visiting forces agreement with only two countries – the US and Australia.

“We really explore possibly expanding the bilateral Balikatan exercises into a multilateral exercise,” Galvez said during the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) Shangri-la Dialogue, an inter-governmental security conference held in Singapore.

“In the future, we might be expanding it with other allied nations,” he added.

In late April, Filipino and American troops successfully concluded the largest-ever Balikatan exercises, where nearly 18,000 troops participated, including over 100 Australian soldiers.

Live fire exercises were also held in Philippines waters for the first time, as witnessed by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. himself.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines earlier said it is already gearing up for next year’s Balikatan, with Chief of Staff Gen. Andres Centino adding that they are eyeing more locations and an increased participation of other allies.