Batanes as ‘Balikatan’ site: US Army execs to build Warehouse

Batanes as ‘Balikatan’ site: US Army execs arrive to build Warehouse

Itbayat Mayor Sabas De Sagon.


ITBAYAT, BATANES — Two ranking United States Army engineers arrived here on Friday, in the country’s northernmost municipality facing Taiwan, to prepare the construction of a humanitarian logistics warehouse as part of this year’s “Balikatan” (shoulder-to-shoulder) military exercises between American and Filipino forces.

Amid regional tensions arising from China’s aggressive claims over Taiwan and almost the entire South China Sea, it signaled the start of activities and developments unprecedented in the history of Batanes, a province more known for its rolling verdant hills and rural scenery than as an area of strategic and geopolitical interest.


READ: Batanes eyed among sites of next Balikatan drills


The Balikatan exercises will be held from April 22 to May 10, with a total of 16,000 troops from both countries expected to participate.

Batanes has served as a Balikatan site three times in the past, the latest in April 2023, but mostly for small contingents conducting infiltration and parachute trainings. For this year, it is expected to host exercises on a larger scale, details of which have yet to be announced.

Depot, lodgings

But a general picture has already emerged of the footprint the American military will have in the province.

In an interview, US Army Maj. Nicholas Yager and Capt. Michael Bruce, resident engineer and plans officer, respectively, of the US Army’s 84th Engineer Battalion, said they were part of the advance party for the group that would construct a humanitarian and disaster relief warehouse at Sitio Kagonongan in Barangay San Rafael.

Yager and Bruce also inspected the depot area for fuel, welding materials and other construction equipment at the San Rafael National Food Authority warehouse.

They then visited Itbayat District Hospital, where an American physician’s assistant will be stationed, and the various lodging facilities in Itbayat where the American soldiers will stay during the military exercises.


At least 29 soldiers from the US Department of Defense and the Department of the Army, headed by US Army Officer in Charge 1st Lt. Kristina Mackey, are expected to arrive in the coming days. About 15 Philippine Army engineers will also help build the humanitarian and disaster relief warehouse.Construction till June

Itbayat Mayor Sabas de Sagon said the local government was still trying to secure the environmental compliance certificate for the planned warehouse with the help of the municipal engineer.

Its construction will start on April 14 and is expected to be completed on June 6, or well after the Balikatan drills.

Reaching international waters

De Sagon welcomed the project, saying it would help the town store prepacked food, disaster response equipment and other vital supplies.

Staging the 39th edition of Balikatan in Batanes is part of the Philippine Army’s move to “veer away from traditional training areas,” such as Subic in Zambales and Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, according to the organizers.

This year would also see the war games being held kilometers away from military camps to focus on coastal or maritime defense.

For the first time, the Balikatan will also have drills staged outside the country’s territorial waters.

These include a “group sail” involving the Philippine Navy, US Navy, Philippine Coast Guard, US Coast Guard, and French Navy, according to Balikatan’s executive agent, Col. Michael Logico.

The exercises, Logico said, would be conducted some 12 nautical miles, or 22.22 kilometers, off the west coast of Palawan province, which is already considered international waters.

‘Cope Thunder’

Aside from the drills in the West Philippine Sea, Filipino and American troops will again sink a mock enemy ship—the decommissioned BRP Lake Caliraya—in Laoag City, Ilocos Norte, the hometown of President Marcos.

A total of 14 countries are expected to send military observers to the exercises: Japan, South Korea, India, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia, Germany and New Zealand.

Before the Balikatan, the Philippine and US air forces will conduct a separate set of exercises under “Cope Thunder,” from April 8 to April 19.

Cope Thunder is a program dating back to the years when the Philippines was still hosting permanent US naval and air bases. It was stopped in 1991 —with the closure of the US bases in Clark and Subic—and revived last year.

Col. Maria Consuelo Castillo, spokesperson of the Philippine Air Force (PAF), said this year’s Cope Thunder will again feature joint and combined sea, air and ground exercises between the Philippine and US air forces.

In a press statement, the US Indo-Pacific Command (Indopacom) said Cope Thunder “aims to facilitate bilateral fighter training with the Philippine Air Force and enhance combined interoperability among participating forces.”

On April 7, the Philippines, United States and Japan, will also hold antisubmarine drills off the coast of Palawan province in the West Philippine Sea, according to a report by Japanese news agency Kyodo.

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The Department of National Defense and the Armed Forces of the Philippines have yet to give details about the antisubmarine drills.

TAGS: Balikatan, Batanes

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