Costs of Balikatan in Bicol: A Child’s Death and US Troops’ Intervention

Right now, however, they are no longer undergoing medical treatment. “Hindi na kami binigyan ng pera pagkalabas namin ng ospital, tama na raw y’ong ibinigay nila” (They didn’t give us any more money after we were discharged from the hospital, saying what they had given us was enough already), Jocelyn said.

She and her family, Jocelyn said, earn a living by planting and selling palay (unhusked rice), corn and vegetables, and are unable to afford continuous medication.

The Philippine Army’s 901st Infantry Battalion, headed by Col. Ariel Bernardo, has been conducting clearing operations in the area in preparation for the 2009 Balikatan military exercises, which are scheduled to be held in nearby Brgy. Paulba this April, said Catherine Ascutia, spokesperson of the women’s group Bicolana GABRIELA, in a phone interview. The Polvorido family, she said, are among the victims of these clearing operations.

According to the AFP, the Balikatan exercises to be held in the Bicol Region will focus on “disaster rehabilitation and rural development projects.”

“These will materialize through the Engineering Civic Action Program (ENCAP) and Medical Action Program (MEDCAP) activities which will be conducted in Bicol region,” a Jan. 29 press release from the AFP stated.

“About 11,000 Bicolanos will benefit from MEDCAP and a total of nine barangays will benefit from ENCAP,” the AFP press release further stated.

The Bicol Region was devastated in 2006 by typhoon “Reming”, which left thousands of people either dead or missing and damaged millions of pesos in livelihood and property.

But there have been no major calamities in the Bicol Region since then. Because of this, Ascutia suspects that there may be more to the forthcoming Balikatan exercises in their region than “humanitarian” work.

“The rehabilitation of the victims of the last calamity is already complete and Bicol has risen from the rubble,” Ascutia said, “so they are not needed at this point. Besides, if they really wanted to help the calamity victims, why didn’t they come right after the last super-typhoon hit us?”

“Besides, relief and rehabilitation work can be accomplished even without them,” Ascutia added.

A “fact sheet” released by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Feb. 25 read, “the civic-humanitarian component of VFA-related exercises also form the backbone of the soft approach to combating terrorism…”

Bicol, one of the country’s poorest regions, is listed among the “priority areas” in the government’s counter-“insurgency” campaign.

There is still a month before the Balikatan exercises begin in Bicol, but the Polvoridos are already fearful of what may happen once these go full-swing. Jocelyn, who is now staying at the Balanac Barangay Hall with her relatives, said she is afraid to return to their village and has several times considered moving with her family to another village. (

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