Monday, April 4, 2011

Philippine-US joint military exercises start April 5

By Jerry E. Esplanada
Philippine Daily Inquirer, Monday, April 4, 2011

In a statement, the embassy said on Monday many of the US soldiers have been staying "in Japan to assist in relief efforts there in the wake of the recent earthquake and tsunami" that devastated parts of the east Asian country.

Earlier, embassy spokesperson Rebecca Thompson told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that "at the invitation of the Philippine government, approximately 5,000 US service members will participate in the training exercises and humanitarian activities for a two-week period (April 5 to 15), working at all times alongside their Armed Forces of the Philippines counterparts."

The embassy explained that "although there will be few combined field training exercises this year, various construction and free medical, dental and veterinary civic action activities by joint US and Philippine military teams are being conducted on schedule."

"These civic-military activities began in early March. Additionally, five barangays (villages) in Tarlac and Zambales provinces are each assured of a new classroom building by the exercises' completion on April 15," it also said.

According to the embassy, "this year's exercises—the 27th edition of the Balikatan series—seek to maintain the high level of readiness and interoperability of the two countries' troops in responding to natural disasters and other crises that threaten public health and safety."

Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Edilberto Adan, also executive director of the Presidential Commission on the Visiting Forces Agreement (between Manila and Washington), said "the conduct of the Balikatan exercises aims to improve and sustain the interoperability skills of Philippine and US troops and units that are participating."

Adan noted the war games were "jointly approved by the Philippine and US governments under the Mutual Defense Board process," adding the Philippines is a "mutual security ally of the US."

US Ambassador to the Philippines Harry K. Thomas Jr. said Balikatan would be "all about our partnership and friendship."

Earlier in a statement, the US embassy said "soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines from our countries are scheduled to conduct combined staff exercises and field training at Clark Air Base, Fort Magsaysay, Crow Valley, and off the Central and Southern Luzon coasts to improve interoperability, maritime security and contingency planning."

During the exercises, "the US and Philippine navies will also conduct training in explosive ordnance disposal and countering threats posed by improvised explosive devices off the coast of Ternate, Cavite."

"Members of the Philippine and US armed forces will also conduct humanitarian assistance projects in Central and Southern Luzon. Military medical personnel will offer free medical, dental and veterinary care, while military engineers will conduct and repair schools and other infrastructure in communities in need of assistance," the embassy added.

On Monday, the militant League of Filipino Students (LFS) assailed the alleged "double talk" of US embassy officials on the nature of the Balikatan exercises.

LFS national chairman Terry Ridon said "no matter how Ambassador Harry Thomas sugarcoats the exercises, it is nothing but a massive counterinsurgency operation by US troops on Philippine soil."

Ridon claimed "the main reason for the heightened emphasis on humanitarian and civic-military operations is due to the global shift in tactics of the US military to win the hearts and minds of host nations, like the Philippines."

"Again, winning hearts and minds is still within the military framework of decimation and destruction with clear military objectives related to its involvement in counterinsurgency operations," he said.

Ridon also said "never for once must the people believe the sincerity of the US military's intentions in the conduct of its humanitarian missions."

"As stated in its 2009 Counterinsurgency Manual, the US' peace offering tactics need to be employed to soften the opposition of direct and actual military presence of US troops in host nations like the Philippines. Thus, all the relief and humanitarian operations are mere military US psy-ops and never in the interest of full and complete Philippine development," he added.

Renato Reyes Jr., secretary general of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) called the Balikatan "proof of the one-sided Philippines-US relations."

Reyes said "these are under the auspices of the lopsided VFA."

He accused Washington of "taking advantage of the vague provisions of the VFA, which do not specify the number of troops allowed to come here, nor does it require US troops to go through our Bureau of Immigration."

"We have no idea who goes and who stays, as what is happening now in Mindanao," Reyes added.

Adan earlier clarified that American soldiers based in Mindanao have been "conducting and supporting the activities of the AFP through civic-military operations."

"They are not allowed to engage in combat operations. Their presence is authorized by our government through the Mutual Defense Board. Their support to the AFP has degraded the capabilities of the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group," he explained.

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