Philippines, US to start annual military drills. Image Source: IANS News

Manila, April 12 : The Philippines and the US will start their annual joint military exercise dubbed the "Balikatan" on Monday, the army chief in Manila said.

This year's exercise is a "scaled-down version" of the previous drills due to the threat of the Covid-19 pandemic, Xinhua news agency reported.

Lieutenant General Cirilito Sobejana, the chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), said this year's drills will only involve 1,700 troops -- 700 from the US and 1,000 from the Southeast Asian nation.

"Some portions of the exercises will be virtual, but we also have minimal physical contact. There will also be actual field training exercises but not as big as those done in the previous years," he said.

Sobejana said the two-week joint military drills will officially open on Monday at the AFP's main headquarters in the capital.

Unlike in previous opening ceremonies, he said Monday's event will be closed to the public and the media as part of the safety precautions due to the pandemic.

The rest of the drills will also be closed for coverage.

"Balikatan", a Tagalog phrase for "shoulder-to-shoulder", is the most comprehensive among several regular US-Philippines joint military exercises.

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