MANILA, Philippines- Opposition to the up coming Philippines-US joint military exercises is getting stronger with the largest alliance of patriotic and progressive groups in Manila voiced out their collective rejection to the scheduled Balikatan exercises next month. In their webiste (www.bayan.ph), the umbrella group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) today called on the Aquino government to scrap the scheduled 2011 Balikatan exercises saying it undermines any meaningful review of the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement.
“By holding the Ballikatan war games on April 5-15 this year, the Aquino government is showing that it is not really serious in reviewing the VFA. Unequal and lopsided provisions remain in the agreement yet the Aquino government has no problems enforcing this pact for the upcoming war games,” said Bayan secretary general Renato M. Reyes, Jr.
“What will happen if there are again violations of Philippine law which would require us gaining custody of American troops? How will the unequal provisions of the VFA be implemented once more? Will we have another Daniel Smith episode, one that is ultimately embarrassing for the Philippines?” Reyes added.
Bayan objected to the holding of the Balikatan exercises saying that the VFA does not specify the number of US troops entering the country and the type of activities they can engage in.
“The VFA has been abused by the United States so they can permanently station their troops in the Philippines as what we are seeing now in Mindanao. The Philippine government has taken on the untenable position of allowing this to happen despite it being a clear violation of our sovereignty and constitution,” Reyes said.
“The upcoming Balikatan exercises show the extent of the Philippine government’s subservience to US dictates. The Aquino government will allow 6,000 US troops who are covered by a defective and one-sided pact to undertake unspecified military operations in our country. The Aquino government, much like the Arroyo government, will allow US troops to make the Philippines their playground,” he added.
The group also said that there remains the unresolved issue in relation to corruption of Baliaktan funds. A Commission on Audit investigation revealed there were irregularities in the management of the AFP’s funds deposited in the Land Bank of the Philippines.
“This is the 27th Balikatan war games. What have we gained so far? What benefits has the VFA provided us? The so-called civil military operations at the communities are mere publicity stunts for US forces to be acceptable to the local population,” Reyes said. The Philippine military announced last week that around 6,000 American troops are going to participate in Balikatan (Shoulder-to-shoulder) exercises next month. It said around 2,000 Philippine troops will join their US counterparts in the 10-day war drill that would start on April 15. The exercises include a unilateral planning exercise inside the headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Western Command in Puerto Princesa, Palawan.
But AFP officials said the US troops will only participate as observers in the unilateral planning exercise. Aside from the unilateral planning in Puerto Princesa, other joint PH-US military exercises will be held inside Fort Magsaysay in Laur, Nueva Ecija, Basa and Clair Air Base in Pampanga, Crow Valley Range in Tarlac, Naval Station L in Zambales, Sangley Point in Cavite, Msrine Base in Ternate, also in Cavite and Mactan Airbase in Cebu province. Earlier, the activist peasant group in Central Luzon– the Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luzon (AMGL) announced its plan to hold series of protests against the Balikatan exercises. Leaders of the farmer regional alliance said farmers in the region will be barred again from attending their crops during the war exercises.
The same sentiment was echoed by the fisherfolk group Pamalakaya, which said that the water-based military drills in Sangley Point and Ternate might result to banning of fishing activities during the joint war drills. Pamalakaya vice chair for Luzon Salvador France said everytime there is joint military exercises held along the country’s coastal shores, local government units enforce fishing ban as what happened in the Bicol Region during the 2008 Balikatan exercises.(With reports from Roy Morilla and Labo Molabo Ramos)