Sun Apr 16, 2017 4:52PM
This file photo taken on April 14, 2016 shows US marines walking next to their transport and amphibious vehicles at a temporary camp for the "Balikatan" joint US-Philippine military exercise at Crow Valley, in Capas town, north of Manila. (AFP photo)
This file photo taken on April 14, 2016 shows US marines walking next to their transport and amphibious vehicles at a temporary camp for the "Balikatan" joint US-Philippine military exercise at Crow Valley, in Capas town, north of Manila. (AFP photo)

Military officials in the Philippines have announced that joint annual drills with the United States will continue although the mission would mostly focus on humanitarian and counter-terrorism operations rather than live-fire exercises.

The military said Sunday that annual military exercises, known as Balikatan (Shoulder-to-Shoulder), will now go ahead in May, and will last for 10 days.

"It will be scenario-based like (preparing for) a big storm hitting the Philippines or the possibility of terrorism," Balikatan spokesman Major Celeste Frank Sayson, said, adding "We are safe to say there will be no more live-fire exercises. We (will) focus on humanitarian and civil assistance."

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana had said earlier that the exercises would focus on fighting terrorism, a top priority for the Philippines, which is still battling militants in its lawless south.

The drill will be the first under President Rodrigo Duterte, an outspoken critic of the West who has repeatedly clashed with Washington over his anti-drug campaign. He has also courted China, effectively putting into question Manila's 70-year alliance with the US. Duterte even suggested last year that the annual drills should be cancelled and US troops should leave the Islands nation.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (AFP photo)

Before Duterte, the drills intensified as disputes between the Philippines and China over islands in the South China Sea escalated. However, Duterte has ignored the dispute in favor of economic concessions from Beijing.

However, Manila still needs military support from the US to repel sporadic attacks by militants of the Abu Sayyaf and other groups that have pledged allegiance to the Daesh Takfiris in Iraq and Syria.

Clashes erupted between security forces and militants earlier in the week after Abu Sayyaf elements attacked a key Philippine tourist destination, the first of its kind in recent years.