Balikatan 2016 officially closes

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — The biggest Balikatan ever held officially ended on Friday (April 15).

Exercise director Vice Admiral Alexander Lopez said this year's Balikatan was a resounding success.

"Our desired training objectives of enhancing the interoperability between the AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines] and the U.S. Armed Forces, together with Australian defense forces, testing and evaluating our own force capabilities and most importantly, further enhancing the bond of friendship and understanding between and among Balikatan 2016 participants have all been remarkable," Lopez said.

Philippine officials said the military exercises mark another milestone for the U.S. and the Philippines in making progress in territorial defense, maritime security, humanitarian assistance, and disaster response.

"Training is a critical component of military modernization," said Department of National Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin. "Balikatan significantly contributes to such an endeavor as it enables all major services of the Armed Forces of the Philippines to train with the U.S. Pacific Command."

Gazmin added, "Balikatan also contributes to regional security cooperation, to development of our capability to such exercises helps us do our part in maintaining regional peace and stability."

Related: U.S. announces ramped-up military presence in Philippines

Meanwhile, AFP Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Hernando Iriberri said "the proceedings of this year's Balikatan exercises only underscore the heightened, and heighten the values of strategic partnership, of informed capability planning, of EDCA and of the U.S. maritime security initiative for our country and for our region."

There were about 7,000 troops who joined the war games, but this time, they were not just Filipinos and Americans. Australian forces also participated, while many others stood as observers. Japan has expressed interest in joining the next Balikatan.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter reiterated America's commitment to help improve the Philippines' military capabilities and uphold freedom of navigation and territorial integrity in the South China Sea.

"As long as we remain steadfast in that commitment as we had for decades, we will continue to ensure the Philippines remains secure and the Asia Pacific remains a region where everyone can rise and prosper for generations to come," said Carter.

After the closing ceremony, Carter visited the USS John C. Stennis carrier which is holding freedom of navigation drills in the South China Sea.

U.S. forces will stay in the Philippines even after Balikatan for joint missions and drills.

Also read: Comparing PH and U.S. armed forces