Progressive groups are hounding the 2013 joint US-RP military exercises, which begins today, to protest the continuous assault on the country’s sovereignty, the human rights violations resulting from it and the toxic wastes it leaves behind.
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA — Various progressive groups are holding a protest caravan today April 5 to protest the US-led Balikatan military exercises. The groups assembled early morning in front of the People Power Monument at Ortigas Ave. in Edsa. They are to hold protest rallies in Tarlac, and in Pampanga and Zambales, at the gates of former military bases of the US where the Balikatan military exercises would be held.
But before driving out of the capital, they held a brief demonstration in front of Camp Aguinaldo along Edsa, where soldiers from the Philippine Army and Marines blocked the gates. The formal opening of Balikatan military exercises this year is set for today inside this camp.
“It seems today’s soldiers don’t know that when the US forcibly occupied the Philippines, US troops killed 800,000 Filipinos. Yet, today, why are Filipino soldiers standing by these American troops?” Clemente Bautista, national coordinator of Kalikasan-Philippine network of Environmentalists, said during the program at the gates of Camp Aguinaldo.
Tension in Asia-Pacific, a result of US intervention
A reason consistently cited by the US and Philippine governments in ratcheting up troop deployment and armaments in the Asia-Pacific is supposedly the tension here, as Asian countries have competing territorial claims, among others. The implied suggestion is that the US is trying to police the area for the sake of freedom of navigation, rule of law and other claims.
But there is tension in the region today precisely because the US has been increasing its presence and intervention there, said Renato Reyes Jr., secretary-general of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan). He cited as example the brewing conflict between South Korea and North Korea, where North Korea is chafing at the increased presence of US troops and its joint military exercises in South Korea. In Japan, there have also been protests against the US bases in Okinawa.
The US has announced last year its planned pivot of US military deployments toward the Asia Pacific region. They are eyeing the rich natural resources and the big market in the region, home to more than half of the world’s population.
In the Philippines, the pivot drastically increased, in 2012, the arrival in Philippine territory of US warplanes and ships. The US has also reportedly begun reusing their former military bases in the country under privatized arrangement or contracts. That is on top of what critics warned as covert or unreported building of US military installations in other parts of the country, mostly inside AFP camps. There is also the continuous rotation of more than a thousand US troops.
Risks and US military infractions in the Philippines
Green groups led by the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment joined the People’s Caravan today as they denounced not just the human rights violations brought by US troops but also the environmental degradation their presence causes.
“We do not want a repeat of toxic dumping and ship grounding in our seas and coral reefs. We are calling for an immediate moratorium on entry of US warships particularly those which are nuclear-armed like the USS Cheyenne,” Bautista said.
Environmental violations related to US military forces in the Philippines include the grounding of minesweeper USS Guardian in the World Heritage site Tubbataha Reef and dumping of hazardous, untreated wastes in Subic Bay. Last week, another three US warships docked in various ports of the Philippines for what the US Embassy describes as “routine port calls.”
Until this week divers are still engaged in what they described as a difficult cleanup operation following the recent removal of the last piece of the USS Guardian. Until now, the Philippine government has not yet made public the results of its investigation into the grounding; it also has not begun moves to punish those in the US military accountable for the grounding.
“The Aquino government wants to reduce the issue of Tubbataha grounding just on the monetary compensation, but it clearly fails to assert our sovereignty and seek justice in relation to the environmental crimes committed by the US forces,” Bautista said.
As for the dumping of toxic wastes from US military ships on Subic waters, the Senate inquiry has reportedly found the Glenn Defense, a US military contractor, guilty of violating laws on dumping of dirty wastes on Philippine waters. But except for a shame campaign that led to the replacement of Glenn defense’s local head, retired Rear Admiral Mateo Mayuga, the US military has not been held accountable.