Farmers Hold Caravan Protest Against PH-US Balikatan Exercises in Central Luzon

“We were never fooled – the motives of the US have always been self-serving. The US has always made sure to protect its own economic and geopolitical interests in Asia and it has been using the Philippines to do this.” – Satur Ocampo of Makabayan


The pavement sweltered under the blazing mid-morning sun, but protesters led by peasant organizations Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas and the Alyansa ng mga Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luson (AMGL, Peasant Alliance in Central Luzon) remained determined to show their anger and disgust against the ongoing Philippines-United States Balikatan exercises being held in Central Luzon.

Joined by members of people’s organizations under the Bagong Alyansang Mabakayan (BAYAN) such as the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), Health Alliance for Democracy (KMP) and the Alliance of Concerned Teachers, the KMP and AMGL led a caravan of eight vehicles from Quezon City to Central Luzon. They journeyed for two hours and their first stop was the Clark Special Economic Zone in Angeles City.

Armed security guards and police attempted to stop the protesters from moving further into the entrance of the special economic zone, but Anakpawis Representative and KMP chairman Rafael Mariano, Makabayan Coalition president Satur Ocampo and KMP deputy-secretary-general Willy Marbella asserted their rights to peaceful assembly and literally lifted and moved the metal barriers placed by security forces of the zone.

After a short program wherein leaders burned a replica of the American flag, the caravan proceeded to Camp Servillano Aquino, the base of the Northern Luzon Command (NOLCOM) in Brgy. San Miguel, Tarlac City. There the protesters from Quezon City were met by farmers from Tarlac and Nueva Ecija under BAYAN-CL and the Hacienda Luisita workers’ ULWU.

Camp Aquino is the site of Staff Exercise and Command Post Exercise (STAFFEX/CPX).

After the hour-long protest where the rallyists again burned an American flag as well as painted caricatures of President Benigno Aquino III and the iconic Uncle Sam representing the US government, the protesters continued their caravan into Hacienda Luisita and adjacent barangays along Tarlac-Sta. Rosa Road.

The Philippines as Target of Enemies of the US

Makabayan’s Ocampo denounced the PH-US Balikatan exercises as a betrayal of national sovereignty and a reversal of the Filipino people’s victory in 1991 when the US military bases were driven out after 50 years in the country. He said that there never was a just or acceptable reason for the US to maintain bases in the country or to send its troops for training.

“We were never fooled – the motives of the US have always been self-serving. The US has always made sure to protect its own economic and geopolitical interests in Asia and it has been using the Philippines to do this. As for the US’ assertions that it wants to help protect the Philippines from terrorist attacks, these are all lies: it is precisely the military interference and presence of US troops in our country that seriously threatens our safety as a nation, making us a target of those who consider the US as their enemy,” Ocampo said.

Ocampo said President Aquino has again disappointed nationalists and patriots when he decided to continue the Balikatan exercises. He said that Aquino and his government’s military campaign dubbed Oplan Bayanihan was continuing the tragic and treacherous tradition set by his predecessors of undermining the country’s sovereignty and violating the Filipino people’s human rights.

“We are certain that there would be more human rights violations under the Aquino government. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) by themselves already commit countless atrocities against the Filipino people. Combining forces with US troops, the violations they will commit will grow even bigger in number and more vicious in nature. President Aquino should not have allowed the Balikatan exercises to continue; he should have stood fast and called for the scrapping of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT),” he said.

Military Exercises Directed Against Peasants

AMGL chairman Joseph Canlas said the Balikatan exercises are “totally of no use to Central Luzon farmers.”

Worse, he said, the exercises pose threats against the struggle of farmers to own the land they till.

“The military exercises are also being used to aid the government in implementing supposedly pro-development programs and projects that in reality make the poor even more impoverished. The presence of military troops both Filipino and American is being used to intimidate farmers from asserting their rights, such as in the case of the struggle of Hacienda Luisita and their fight against the injustices of the Cojuangco-Aquinos, President Noynoy’s own family,” he said.

Canlas said the Balikatan field training exercises in Zambales, Pampanga, Tarlac and Nueva Ecija are also areas of many agrarian disputes. The exercises also double for clearing operations for mining in Zambales, more land use conversions in Pampanga, the Balog-balog dam in Tarlac, Fort Magsaysay Military Reservation and Pantabangan watershed project in Nueva Ecija. He also said that US soldiers have already been spotted inside Hacienda Luisita.

Based on reports, the Central Luzon region is being targeted as site for major infrastructure projects such as the Metro-Luzon Urban Beltway (MLUB) or the network of major highways to facilitate the extraction of the country’s resources for the world market. The beltway will be comprised of the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEx), Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway (TPLEx), Central Luzon Expressway 1 and 2 (CLEx), North Luzon East Expressway (NLEx East), La Mesa Parkway and other conduit national roads and highways.

“These projects are conceptualized to serve foreign interests. These have also triggered massive land grabbing, displacements and land use conversions. Big landlords, real estate developers and foreign agro-corporations and investors have been barraging farmers with legal cases as attempt to eject them from their farms. The SCTEx and TPLEx had this effect in Tarlac, Pangasinan and Nueva Ecija,” Canlas said.

Canlas added that Oplan Bayanihan also intends to counter intensifying peasant unrest in the region brought about by anti-peasant programs such as the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms (CARPer), President Aquino’s Public-Private Partnership (PPP) program, the Philippine Energy Plan (PEP) and the Central Luzon Medium Term Development Plan.

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