Fishers group puzzled over US troops census in Bicol

Fishers group puzzled over US troops census in Bicol

The left-leaning fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) on Friday urged lawmakers in both Houses of Congress to investigate what it called “ an illegal and puzzling” census conducted by US troops and personnel in Sorsogon and other provinces of the Bicol region ahead of the RP-US joint military exercises.

“That census is not only illegal and unconstitutional; it is Washington political-military intervention to the highest order. Nobody gives the US military servicemen and personnel the legal, moral and political right to conduct survey on our people. That is not really a survey activity, but surveillance of foreign state on a nation state,” Pamalakaya national chair Fernando Hicap said in a press statement.

The Pamalakaya leader said the committees on foreign relations and national defense of both the Senate and the House of Representatives should conduct a separate or joint congressional inquiry into what he called an invasion of public life in the name of US war on terror.

“The Bicol wide Balikatan escapade is a direct attack to the national sovereign rights of the Filipino people. The Senate and the House of Representatives through their respective committees should conduct an all-out congressional probe on this matter,” added Hicap.

Earlier, the Lakas ng Mangingisda ng Bicol (Lambat-Bicol), a regional affiliate of Pamalakaya reported that a number of US troops and personnel were frequently seen in Barangay Liyang, Irosin town in Sorsogon province conducting preliminary survey and surveillance ahead of the Balikatan exercises scheduled to begin in April this year.

In the same report, small fishermen started seeing US personnel conducting “census” in Barangay Mayngaran in Masbate City, Barangay Bagacay, Marintuk, Lalaguna and Balatukan in Mobo town, barangays Marcilla, Dapdap, Panisihan, Buenvista, Armenia, Sawang, Buenasuerte and Magsaysay in Uson town, and in the municipality of Cataingan proper all in Masbate.

Lambat-Bicol also noted the early presence of US troops in Oas town, Albay, particularly in the farming villages of San Pascual, San Miguel and Talisay, where the 5th engineering battalion of the Philippine Army is currently detailed.

But Col. Rodolfo Santiago, the military’s Executive Agent for the Balikatan Exercises said census being conducted by US troops in Sorsogon was necessary to identify potential beneficiaries of the Balikatan projects like civil works, medical and dental missions and rehabilitation and construction of facilities.

Santiago said the US soldiers who will be sent to Bicol region are non-combatants and composed only of doctors, veterinarians and construction workers. The Balikatan executive agent added that the actual RP-US joint military exercises will be held in Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, and Crow Valley Range and Clark Air Field in Pampanga.

Santiago likewise, denied the observation raised by Pamalakaya that a six-month fish ban would be imposed during the commencement of the RP-US joint military exercises in Bicol.

“Tell that to the marines,” said Pamalakaya in reaction to Santiago’s statement.

Last week, Pamalakaya floated the alleged the plan of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Reform (BFAR) Region V office in Legaspi City, Albay to suspend all fishing activities in the Bicol region for six months once the Balikatan exercises kick off in April.

The group said fish ban will affect the livelihood of more than 100,000 small fishermen in the provinces of Albay, Sorsogon and Masbate connecting the rich the fishing grounds of Albay Gulf, Ragay Gulf and Sorsogon Bay, excluding fish workers employed by small, medium and large-scale commercial fishing operators.

Lambat-Bicol and Pamalakaya argued that the small fisherfolk will brace for a six-month fish ban, because the war games will make use of the interconnecting bodies of water in Bicol region namely the Ragay Gulf, Albay Gulf and Sorsogon Bay that join the provinces of Camarines Sur, Camarines Norte, Albay, Sorsogon and Masbate for the loading and unloading of 3,000 US troops and personnel who will participate in the Balikatan exercises.

The US war ships are expected to carry some 3,000 regular US troops and personnel who will participate in the six-month joint military training.

The six-month RP-US joint military exercises will affect the coastal municipalities and cities of Tiwi, Malilipot, Malinaw, Bacacay, Sto. Domingo, Manito, Rapu-Rapu, Legaspi City and Tobaco City in Albay province, and Prieto Diaz, Bacon, Gubat, Barcelona, Bulusan, Matnog, Casiguran, Bulan, Joban, Donsol, Pilar Magallanes, Castilla and Sorsogon City in Sorsogon province, and nearby coastal municipalities in Masbate province. #

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