By AIRA MARIE SIGUENZA
MANILA – Progressive group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) denounced the upcoming Balikatan exercises called “Salaknib” between the Philippines and the United States as it can provoke regional geopolitical tension and violate the country’s sovereignty.
Last Tuesday, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Balikatan spokesperson Colonel Michael Logico announced they will hold the largest Balikatan exercise this year with more than 17,000 troops – 12,000 from the US military and 5000 from the AFP – participating in the joint training exercises.
More than 100 Australian Defense Forces will also join the smaller land activities.
Aside from the land-based exercises, including multiple small-arms and maneuver live fire exercises (LFX), jungle training, and artillery and mortar LFX activities, the troops will do cyber defense exercises and live fire exercises at sea where they will fire a target vessel which is an old fishing boat.
Logico added that these war games prove they are ‘combat-ready’ in defending the country’s territory, which Bayan calls into question.
“If the government of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is intent on defending our maritime territories in the West Philippine Sea, it should strongly assert diplomatic means which includes invoking the UN tribunal ruling to counter China’s aggressive actions,” said Bayan in a statement.
It can be remembered that during the visit of United States Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III to the country, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. approved the expanded military cooperation and greater access of the US to Philippine military bases.
For Bayan, Balikatan exercises are counterproductive as these are costly, and the budget should be used to address hunger, poverty, and rising prices instead of hosting soldiers from the nation’s former colonial aggressors.
“War games intensify local conflict, human rights abuses, and corruption in the military. The armaments used in the exercises can be deployed by the government as it pursues its brutal counterinsurgency program. There is a lack of transparency about the extent of involvement of foreign troops in the government counterinsurgency program,” the group added.
On the other hand, youth group League of Filipino Students (LFS) also sounded alarmed that these war exercises would lead to a chain reaction and put the Philippines caught between the US and China.
“These aggressive steps by the US to consolidate its control over the Philippines earn the ire of its rival, China. The economic giant will be pushed to take dire measures to maintain its sphere of influence in the Asia-Pacific region, which will ironically translate into a tighter hold on the West Philippine Sea (WPS),” said LFS.
Effects to fisherfolk
Fisherfolk group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) also warned of possible displacement of local fisherfolk in the areas where the Balikatan exercises will take place.
This is after the provincial government of Ilocos advised the officials of 21 towns and two cities in Ilocos Norte to “relocate affected fisherfolk and make way for the traffic condition” from March 10 to April 28 as airmobile operations and logistics exercises will be conducted.
Pamalakaya expressed disapproval as this will add another threat to the Filipino fishers who are also experiencing attacks in the West Philippine Sea.
Read: Green group hits China reclamation, Ph-US Balikatan in West Ph Sea
“Filipino fishers do not deserve to be displaced from their livelihood only to provide a security blanket to foreign forces carrying out military drills accompanied with live fire exercises at sea. We are demanding the US troops to leave the Filipino fishers in peace and bring their warmongering power projection elsewhere,” said Ronnel Arambulo, Pamalakaya national spokesperson.
The three-week military exercises will start from April 11 to 28 in areas of Northern Luzon, Palawan, and Antique. (JJE)