RW: What are the objectives of the so-called Balikatan war maneuvers?
BT: The Balikatan (shoulder-to-shoulder) war exercises involving U.S. and Filipino troops have been full-scale and been serialized since Arroyo became President in 2001. The war exercises, which are held in southern Philippines and other provinces, coincide with the holding of special operations forces (SOFs) training that involve the elite forces of the U.S. under the Pacific Command and the special forces of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. The SOF program provides training in unconventional warfare which is the thrust of counter-insurgency. This training is being conducted purportedly for operations against the Abu Sayyaf and other “terrorist” groups but also against the communist New People’s Army (NPA).
RW: You mean to say the war exercises and special operations trainings are not limited to the southern Philippines, but are held in other parts of the archipelago as well?
BT: The war-exercises have been going on not only in southern Philippines, in Basilan, and other parts of Sulu but also in other areas including Luzon and the Visayas. War maneuvers have been held quite regularly in Central Luzon particularly at the former Clark Airbase and Subic and also in Nueva Ecija. It is likely that the trainings, especially unconventional warfare, have been used to conduct covert operations leading to the assassination and abduction of political activists and other critics of the Arroyo administration.
RW: What is the number of American forces currently stationed in the Philippines?
BT: At any time, whenever a war exercise is held, the number of American forces may range from 500 to even 5,000, reports show. For 2007, war exercises are projected to total 16. What is concealed, however, is the fact that at any time at least 500 U.S. forces stay in the Philippines even in periods where there are no war exercises. The VFA itself is vague how long U.S. troops can stay in the country. An indefinite stay virtually gives the Americans a permanent presence in the country. Contributed to Bulatlat