World Bulletin / News Desk
American soldiers said goodbye to the Philippines on Friday following the conclusion of 10 days of joint military exercises.
United States officials hailed "Balikatan" -- a Tagalog word meaning "shoulder-to-shoulder" -- as another milestone in the two countries' relationship.
Joni Scandola, acting deputy head of the U.S. mission, called the exercises -- which finished Thursday -- a manifestation of their commitment to their Philippine allies.
"We are standing with you side-by-side not just for an annual exercise but for whenever our partnership is truly needed," The Philstar quoted Scandola as saying.
Armed Forces chief Gen. Gregorio Catapang Jr. has said that the U.S. spent $15-million on the 10 days of exercises, which involved more than 11,000 servicemen from both countries.
The U.S. deployed 76 aircraft and three naval vessels and the Philippines sent 15 planes and one ship, while the number of Filipino participants increased to 5,023 from 3,000 last year.
They kicked off April 20 amid concerns over China’s construction activities in disputed areas in the South China Sea, which the Philippines calls the West Philippine Sea.
Officials, however, clarified that the event was not intended as a show of force against China, which has been accused of occupying disputed areas of the seaway to assert territorial claims.
The exercises also took place amid an ongoing standoff between Philippine and Chinese vessels at the disputed Scarborough Shoal to the west of the Philippine island of Luzon.
Since mid-2009, the Obama administration has been engaged in an aggressive drive to strengthen alliances and strategic partnerships with countries throughout Asia.
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