MANILA – The Philippines and the United States will have 496 defense and security engagements in 2023 as the world’s coronavirus situation continues to improve.
“For CY 2023 – 496 (274 MDB(Mutual Defense Board) and 222 SEB (Security Engagement Board),” Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief-of-staff Lt. Gen. Bartolome Vicente Bacarro said in a message to reporters Sunday.
This is bigger than this year’s 461 defense and security engagements, which can be broken down into 214 MDB and 247 SEB.
Bacarro said the 461 engagements posted for 2022 is also significantly higher than the 353 in 2021 which can be broken down into 197 MBD and 156 SEB.
The AFP chief attributed the relatively low number of US military engagements in 2021 due to the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Bacarro said around 15,000 US military personnel will be involved in the various MDB and SEB drills in 2023 which includes the annual “Balikatan” exercises.
He said the American military personnel will not be coming en masse at one time.
“Kasi nung nag-Covid naghabol tayo wala tayong mga exercises for the past two years, kukunti, parang pinorward lang parang ganun (When we got stalled by Covid-19, there were no exercises for the past two years, so we were playing catch-up, so all these exercises were forwarded and will be conducted in 2023),” Bacarro said.
Bacarro and other ranking AFP officials attended the 2022 MDB-SEB Meeting at the US Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM) Headquarters in Honolulu, Hawaii last Sept. 27.
The MDB was established in 1958 while the SEB was established in 2006.
The two boards form the framework which directs and enables defense and security cooperation between the US and the Philippine forces.
The event was co-chaired by the AFP chief and INDOPACOM head Admiral John Aquilino.
The MDB-SEB was created to tackle traditional and non-traditional security concerns faced by both the Philippines and the United States as partners.
It is composed of key leaders from the AFP, Philippine National Police, Philippine Coast Guard, Department of National Defense, and the Department of Foreign Affairs.
During this year’s MDB-SEB Meeting, the co-chairs reaffirmed their mutual commitment and obligation to the Philippines-United States alliance to pursue the intent of the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty of coming to each other’s support in addressing all security concerns.
The agenda covered matters of security cooperation activities and the strategic vision including maritime security, information sharing, and capacity and capability development, among others.
The productive discussions also opened opportunities for more robust engagements which will increase the pace of military-to-military engagement including annual bilateral exercises aimed to enhance the interoperability of both armed forces.
Bacarro and Aquilino also agreed to the conclusion of the Implementing Guidelines to operationalize the Maritime Security Framework designed to reinvigorate essential activities of maritime security awareness.
Likewise, both leaders expressed their commitment to accelerate infrastructure and facilities projects under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.
The meeting resulted in the assurance of INDOPACOM’s support to the AFP Modernization by providing and soliciting more aid through the Foreign Military Financing to the Philippines.