Balikatan 2010 Set in Ilocos, Rights Group Raises Alarm

By ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
Bulatlat.com

MANILA — The Ilocos Region, particularly the two Ilocos provinces, is the main focus of a “humanitarian assistance” operation and this year’s upcoming Balikatan military exercises between US and Philippine troops.

According to a recent news release from the US Embassy in Manila, the “humanitarian assistance” operation, dubbed Operation Pacific Angel, will take place in Ilocos Norte beginning today, Feb. 15, up to Feb. 22, while Balikatan 2010 — which, like previous activities of its kind, will have medical/dental mission and infrastructure project components — will be held from March 9 to 19 in Ilocos Sur, as well as in Central Luzon and Cavite.

These two activities, according to the US Embassy, will entail the provision of dental, medical, and veterinary care, as well as the construction and repair of schools and other infrastructure “in communities most in need of assistance.” These will also involve training that will focus on “providing relief and assistance together, in the event of natural disasters and other crises that endanger public health and safety.”

The Ilocos Region and Central Luzon were badly hit by storm Pepeng (international name: Parma) in the first week of October, while Cavite was badly damaged a week before by storm Ondoy (international name: Ketsana). Several towns in these areas were submerged in floodwater for months on end, while a few municipalities suffered from landslides.

“Operation Pacific Angel and Balikatan 2010 will be a continuation of reconstruction efforts following the typhoons that devastated parts of the country last year,” said former US Ambassador to the Philippines Kristie Kenney on Jan. 25, a few days before she left the Philippines. “These are extraordinary opportunities for the militaries of our two great nations to work together and learn from each other for the benefit of the civilian population of our friend and ally, the Philippines.”

The Ilocos Human Rights Alliance or IHRA, the Ilocos chapter of Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights), is not buying Kenney’s line, however. IHRA spokesperson Roda Tajon said in an interview that Ilocos Sur, in particular, had been eyed as a venue for Balikatan 2010 months before Pepeng wrought havoc on Northern Luzon, Cagayan Valley, and Central Luzon.

Indeed, sometime in the last week of June, Deputy National Security Adviser Luis “Chavit” Singson announced that Balikatan 2010 will be held in Ilocos Sur. Presidential aspirant Gilbert “Gibo” Teodoro, who was then defense secretary, endorsed Singson’s announcement.

Tajon, citing a report on the local radio program Timek ti Soldado (The Soldier’s Voice), said that by the second week of September — before Ondoy ravaged Metro Manila and Southern Tagalog — some 10 US troops accompanied by elements of the Philippine Army’s 50th Infantry Battalion had begun to enter and go around several villages in the towns of Sinait and Salcedo, Ilocos Sur. Citing accounts from residents, Tajon said the combined US and Philippine troops conducted ocular inspections in the villages of Baluarte, Baracbac, Jordan, Pias, Quibit-Quibit, San Tiburcio, and Sorioan, among other areas.

Sometime in October, Singson announced in an interview over Bombo Radyo that Balikatan 2010 may not push through in Ilocos Sur.

In the first week of November, however, US and Philippine troops again went around Sinait and Salcedo — particularly in the villages of Arangin, Baluarte, Bayabayading, Lukbuban, Maligcong, Paoc Norte, Pias, San Tiburcio, and Sorioan — to conduct further ocular inspections.

By Nov. 12, it was confirmed that Balikatan 2010 would push through in Ilocos Sur, Tajon said citing a Timek ti Soldado report. The Timek ti Soldado report further stated that some 1,500 US troops will be deployed to the province, Tajon said.

The official claim, he said, is that the US troops will be conducting only “civil-military operations” and not combat exercises.

Tajon believes, however, that these “civil-military operations” actually serve as the “soft component” of US aid in the government’s counter-insurgency campaign, which he said involves the application of a purely military solution to the revolutionary armed struggle being waged by the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front of the Philippines (CPP-NPA-NDFP), while at the same time “terrorizing” the local populace to prevent them from supporting progressive sectoral and community organizations. “It is the soft component of their support for Oplan Bantay Laya,” Tajon said.

Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL or Operation Freedom Watch) is the Arroyo regime’s counter-“insurgency” program which aims to counter the “insurgency” by destroying what the government describes as the “political infrastructure” of the CPP-NPA-NDFP. The so-called “political infrastructure” of the CPP-NPA-NDFP, as described by documents pertaining to the OBL, is made up of legal and progressive organizations, which are labeled as “front organizations” of the underground revolutionary movement. Under OBL, these “front organizations” as well as its leaders are targets for “neutralization”.

In “US Alliances and Emerging Partnerships in Southeast Asia”, a report released just last July by the Washington DC-based bipartisan policy think-tank Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), which describes itself as a “bipartisan” organization, it is clearly shown that there is more to the “humanitarian assistance” and “disaster relief” operations that US troops conduct in the Philippines than the public is made to believe. States the report:

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