Bicol fishers agree to VFA abrogation, call for indefinite suspension of Balikatan exercises in the region
The Lakas ng Mga Maliliit na Mangingisda ng Bicol (Lambat-Bicol) a regional alliance of small fisherfolk organizations today welcomed the proposal of Senators Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Joker Arroyo to abrogate the 10-year old Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) saying it is about time for the Manila government to say no to Washington’s political-military arrogance, intervention and aggression to the country.
“The Manila government should welcome the proposal of Senators Arroyo and Santiago on the scrapping of the military agreement in the national of national interest. The refusal of the US government to yield custody of US Marine Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith is a lucid testimony that Washington D.C will not honor the sovereign rights of the Filipino people as a nation,” said Salvador France, Lambat-Bicol chairperson.
France, also the vice-chair of the left-leaning fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) said lawmakers should push through with the abrogation of VFA even if the US decided to yield the custody of the convicted US rapist to the government.
“There should be no exchange deal here. The abrogation of VFA must be of paramount importance to the Filipino people, and attached to this matter is the taking of custody of Smith away from US authority since the crime is done in the Philippine soil,” the Bicolano fisherfolk leader added.
For his part, Pamalakaya national chair Fernando Hicap dared Senators Arroyo and Santiago to immediately call for the indefinite suspension of the scheduled Balikatan exercises in the Bicol region, while the abrogation of the VFA and the fight of the custody of Cpl. Smith are still being decided by the decision makers in the government.
“It is lawful, objective and morally upright for the Macapagal-Arroyo government to immediately and indefinitely suspend the holding of RP-US joint military exercises in Bicol and other parts of the country, while these issues are stake and being resolved by different branches of the government and the national public,” said Hicap.
The Pamalakaya leader said the indefinite suspension that he wanted to end to scrapping of the VFA should also lead the country’s lawmakers in both Houses of Congress to investigate what it called “alleged 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 illegal and unconstitutional. Seeing in on a larger political context, the census conducted by American servicemen in Bicol is Washington’s 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 and this is again a material evidence to argue for the abrogation of the treaty,” added Hicap.
Pamalakaya 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,” the group said.
Earlier, Pamalakaya and Lambat-Bicol 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.
Pamalakaya and 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 confirmed the census being conducted by US troops in Sorsogon, adding it was necessary to identify potential beneficiaries of the Balikatan projects like civil works, medical and dental missions and rehabilitation and construction of facilities. The military in Bicol said the humanitarian, relief and construction activities of US troops engaged in Balikatan will benefit around 11,000 Bicolanos.
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.