“No matter how US Ambassador Harry Thomas tries to sugarcoat the Balikatan exercises, it is nothing but massive counterinsurgency operations by US troops in Philippine soil.” – League of Filipino Students
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – Where are the supposed benefits of Balikatan exercises? Why is the government of the United States of America bent on holding it here? Why does the Philippine government allow it when it is supposedly reviewing the agreement that enables the holding of these joint US military exercises? These and more were thrown to the US Embassy in Manila by various progressive groups from multi-sectoral organization Bayan (New Patriotic Alliance) and International League of Peoples’ Struggles (ILPS).
To mark the opening of the Balikatan exercises on April 5, student protesters also threw red “paint bombs” at the US Embassy seal, to signify, as they explained, the spilt blood the military exercises eventually cause. Another contingent of protesters from Bayan marched from Taft Avenue toward the US Embassy. But they were blocked by policemen before they got near the US embassy.
The 27th Balikatan military exercises will be participated in by 3,000 US troops. It will be held in Central Luzon, Southern Tagalog and Mindanao until April 15. The Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) has paved the way for the entry of American troops in the country.
“After 27 Balikatan exercises, has the Philippines become better-off? Why did our armed forces remain backward and hugely dependent on US military aid? Where are the so-called benefits?” Renato Reyes Jr., Bayan secretary general, asked in his speech before the protesters.
Reyes criticized the Aquino administration for approving the Balikatan exercises despite the so-called review of the VFA.
“The whole concept of the Balikatan remains problematic insofar as national sovereignty is concerned,” said Reyes. He added that it is especially true now that the Aquino government is purportedly reviewing the lopsided Visiting Forces Agreement. “In spite of its acknowledgment of problems with the VFA, the Philippine government continues to allow US troops to undertake various military activities in the country,” Reyes said.
“While Balikatan purportedly aims to modernize the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the mercenary character of the AFP remains, killing the Filipino people. And now, the generals themselves have been implicated in many corruption cases,” Mark Louie Aquino of LFS-National Capital Region, said in a speech.
Bayan pointed to the unresolved issue of corruption plaguing the Balikatan. The “so-called reimbursements by the AFP to their US counterparts have been described as questionable even by government auditors. No wonder the AFP would like to preserve this annual event. It seems there is money to be made in having US troops around,” Reyes said.
US troops role in Aquino’s counterinsurgency
Terry Ridon, LFS chairperson, lambasted what he calls as “double talk” of US Embassy officials about the nature of the military exercises. “No matter how US Ambassador Harry Thomas tries to sugarcoat the Balikatan exercises, it is nothing but massive counterinsurgency operations by US troops in Philippine soil,” Ridon said.
(Photo by Janess Ann J. Ellao / bulatlat.com)
Police disperse student protesters who managed to throw “paint bombs” at the seal of US Embassy. (Photo by Janess Ann J. Ellao / bulatlat.com)
In a speech during their rally, Ridon said the main reason for the heightened emphasis on humanitarian aid and civic-military operations is the global shift in tactics of the US military to “win hearts and minds” of host nations like the Philippines. “Winning hearts and minds is also within the military framework of decimation and destruction, with clear military objectives related to its involvement in counter-insurgency operations,” Ridon explained.
Citing the 2009 Counter Insurgency Manual, Ridon said all the relief and humanitarian operations “are mere military US psyops, and not in the interest of full and complete Philippine development.”
Ridon said the US troops are also engaged in direct military operations in the conduct of intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance activities in the country. Reyes also said that the US troops do not only build classrooms, hospitals and clinics but also military camps and surveillance posts.
American soldiers immune to Philippine justice
Members of various organizations mark the opening of Balikatan exercises with protest action near the US Embassy in Manila. (Photo by Ronalyn V. Olea / bulatlat.com)
Women’s group Gabriela raised the exploitation of women by US troops.
“Rape victims like ‘Nicole’ and ‘Vanessa’; thousands of prostituted women in Olongapo, Subic, Angeles, Zamboanga and other parts of the country; as well as innumerable reported and unreported cases of abuse and human rights violations committed by the US soldiers in cahoots with the Philippine military while in clearing and combat operations in various parts of the country are the tragic facts of the decades-long presence of US military troops in the Philippines,” Joms Salvador, Gabriela deputy secretary general, said.
In November 2005, five US Marines took part in the rape of then 22-year-old ‘Nicole’ in Subic, Zambales. In May 2009, ‘Vanessa,’ was raped by a US Marine serviceman involved in the Balikatan exercises.
Reyes of Bayan said that US troops who commit crimes would not be detained in jails under Philippine jurisdiction. He cited Daniel Smith, the US Marine initially sentenced for having raped Nicole. Smith was spirited out of Philippine jails by American soldiers and US embassy personnel and transferred to be “detained” in an air-conditioned room inside the US Embassy in Manila.
During the presidency of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the Philippines and the US signed the Non-Surrender Agreement giving immunity to American soldiers who commit crimes inside the Philippine territory.