HomeNewsGroups insist Balikatan exercises harmful to Filipinos, environment

Groups insist Balikatan exercises harmful to Filipinos, environment

Progressive groups condemned the joint military exercises between the US military and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

In a statement, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) described the joint military exercises as a “shameful proof of the subservient foreign policy of the administration of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. by allowing the increased presence and intervention of genocide-enabling and imperialist foreign military forces.”

This year is Balikatan’s 39th iteration, which officially opened on Monday, April 22. Progressive groups trooped to Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City to protest the largest military exercise which will run until May 10 in Northern Luzon and Palawan. More than 16,000 members of the AFP and the US military will be participating in the military exercise. Contingents from the Australian Defense Force and the French Navy will also participate in the exercise, according to reports.

Bayan reiterated that after 38 military training sessions, Balikatan has nothing to show in modernizing the Philippines’ defense forces and enhancing local capabilities to secure the country’s territories.

“It also didn’t prevent China’s aggression in the West Philippine Sea. This is not surprising since then and now, it is not designed to promote our national interest. Its real aim is to allow the US to project and preserve its hegemony in this part of the world,” the group said.

Karapatan also expressed strong condemnation against the Balikatan, saying that the “heavy presence of American military troops and armaments in the country already makes the Philippines a potential target of military attack by China.”

According to a press release by the US Embassy in Manila, the military training will include exercises “in protecting key terrain in Luzon and Palawan in support of territorial defense; rapidly moving long range, precision strike capabilities and using them in targeting simulated threats; tracking simulated air threats and targeting them with multiple air and missile defense systems; and integrating multilateral air and land platforms to increase awareness of the maritime security situation. Exercise forces will conclude by targeting simulated enemy forces and sinking an ‘enemy’ ship.”

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Karapatan said Marcos Jr has allowed the US to exploit the tension in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) and “willfully acting as a pawn in the US’ gameplan against China especially if he deliberately sacrifices or recklessly endangers Filipino lives to provide a rationalization for direct US military intervention in the South China Sea conflict.”

“Coupled with the recent deployment by the US in the Philippines of mid-range missiles capable of reaching Taiwan and the Chinese mainland, there can be no conclusion other than that the US, with the Marcos Jr. regime’s collusion, intends to use Philippine territory as a launching pad for hostile acts against China,” the group added.

‘Filipinos have nothing to gain’

For Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, ordinary Filipinos have nothing to gain and more to lose from the joint military exercises.

Danilo Ramos, chairperson of KMP, said that Balikatan will only cause disruption to the livelihood of peasants and fishermen.

He said that in locations where Balikatan exercises will be held, the mobility of farmers and fishers are being restricted, resulting in the disruption of their livelihood and daily economic activities.

He also added that the US troops have maintained their presence in various areas in Central Luzon like Subic and San Narciso in Zambales, Clark in Pampanga, Camp O’ Donnell and Crow Valley in Tarlac, and Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija. The same in Cagayan and Isabela in Northern Luzon where there are EDCA (Enhance Defense Cooperation Agreement) sites.

Fisherfolk group Pamalakaya also warned against a “no-sail zone” in coastal areas where 19-day military exercises will be conducted.

The group said that last year, some towns in Ilocos Norte implemented a no-sail zone policy due to the Balikatan exercise.

According to Pamalakaya, the Ilocos Norte provincial board released a resolution that directed municipalities and cities to “possibly relocate fisherfolk from fishing along the areas” where major events and firing points of the war games were held. “The order covered coastal towns of Burgos, Pagudpud, Bangui, Pasuquin, Bacarra, Paoay, Currimao, Badoc, and the capital city of Laoag,” the group said.

Photo from ACT Teachers Party Facebook page

“Even neighboring towns of Burgos and Laoag, which were not part of the military exercise, were included in the fishing ban,” said Fernando Hicap, Pamalakaya national chairperson in a statement.

The group raised the alarm as a multilateral maritime exercise between the naval and coast guard ships from the Philippines, U.S., and France, will be held in the camp of the 4th Marine Brigade in Barangay Bobon, Burgos, Ilocos Norte. A maritime strike live-fire exercise (maritime strike LFX) is also scheduled on May 8 in Laoag City.

‘Destructive to the environment’

Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment meanwhile said that the Philippines is facing great danger today.

“While the Chinese Coast Guard is encroaching upon us in the West Philippine Sea, the US plans to use us as ‘cannon fodder’ in its own confrontation with China. For sure, we oppose China’s encroachment in the West Philippine Sea, but we are equally opposed to the US using this issue as a pretext for war to gain power in the region,” the group said in a statement adding that after all, both the US and China are imperialist countries seeking dominance in the Philippines.

“History has also shown that US intervention has always led to war and tragedy — and widespread, long-term environmental destruction, as well. These have been seen in the US-led wars in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Ukraine, and Palestine,” the group said.

The environmental group added that the environmental impact of military operations, such as the Balikatan exercises, is significant.

“Troop movements, vehicle maneuvers, construction activities, and the sinking of naval ships — all lead to habitat loss and fragmentation, endangering local wildlife. The use of heavy machinery, explosives, ammunition, and other military equipment contributes to soil and water pollution by chemical contamination,” Kalikasan said.

“Massive amounts of waste are generated — much of this toxic waste. The health of local communities is threatened during the exercises, as well as by the long-term impacts of the exercises on the environment. Noise pollution disrupts ecosystems and disturbs wildlife,” they added.

They also expressed their strong opposition to the plan of holding the military exercises in the “mega-diverse littoral areas of Luzon and Palawan.”

“These coastal regions, known for their exceptionally high biodiversity, are particularly sensitive to environmental damage. Military exercises in these areas can cause severe and long-lasting harm to these fragile ecosystems,” they said.

The group laments that despite the numerous Balikatan exercises held since the Visiting Forces Agreement in 1999, “the environmental impacts of these exercises have never been considered, much less thoroughly studied.”

Bayan also said that the 38 previous Balikatan exercises proved that the Philippines cannot depend on an external power in directing national security. They added that the Philippines will only be tied to advancing the geopolitical agenda of the country’s so-called ally.

“Our leaders have been absurdly parroting the narrative that US and Philippine interests are the same,” Bayan said.

“For the past three decades, authorities have concocted various reasons for pursuing Balikatan from fighting the communists during the Cold War era, defeating terror after 9/11, humanitarian assistance during calamities, and deterring Chinese aggression. During this period, Balikatan only reinforced our self-defeating dependence on US military aid and supply of weapons. It prevented us from developing a comprehensive security program anchored on the principle of asserting an independent foreign policy,” Bayan added.

Bayan called on the Filipino people to resist Balikatan exercises, oppose the US provocations in the region, and expel US military facilities and other foreign troops in the country.

“Condemn the Marcos Jr. government for shamelessly undermining our sovereignty in exchange for political survival,” Bayan said.
Karapatan, meanwhile, called on all freedom-loving peoples in the Philippines and overseas to “forge the broadest solidarity front against US imperialist intervention and war-mongering in the South China Sea and in other areas of the world.”

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