Environmentalists and lawmakers denounce the presence of the US Navy warships and the PH-US war games as “threat to sovereignty and security as well as to the environment.”
By DEE AYROSO
MANILA — Four US navy warships have docked in Subic bay in the past four days, from Sept. 25 to 29, two of them for “routine port calls” and two others to participate in the joint naval exercises between Philippine and US troops, called Amphibious Landing Exercises (Phiblex 15).
Environmentalists and lawmakers denounce the presence of the warships and the war games as “threat to sovereignty and security as well as to the environment.” Kabataan partylist Terry Ridon said
“the intensified naval war games signal the actual launch of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca) in our country’s territorial waters.”
On Sept. 27, two warships of the US 7th Fleet — the USS Peleliu (LHA-5), an amphibious assault ship, and the USS Germantown (LSD-42), an amphibious dock landing ship — arrived in Subic bay for the Phiblex 15, said the website of the US embassy in Manila. The Phiblex started Sept. 29 and will last until Oct. 10.
Earlier, on Sept. 25, USS Frank Cable (AS 40) — “a ship that provides repairs and support to submarines” — arrived in Subic bay, while the USS Halsey (DDG 97) — an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer — arrived on Sept. 29, the opening day of the joint exercises, said the US embassy website.
The USS Cable is based in Apra Harbor, Guam, while the USS Halsey has homeport, at the Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii. The two warships are part of the US Pacific Fleet.
The US embassy website said the two ships were making “a routine port call” that will enable them to “replenish supplies as well as give the crew an opportunity for rest and relaxation.”
The American sailors of the two warships “are eager to enjoy Olongapo City and strengthen their understanding of a country with deep historical ties to the United States and the U.S. Navy,” the website said.
“The USS Peleliu, commanded by Capt. Paul Spedero, is manned by more than 1,100 sailors. The USS Germantown, commanded by Capt. Marvin Thompson, is manned by more than 350 sailors. Both ships have elements from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, which is commanded by Col. Romin Dasmalchi and based out of Okinawa, Japan, and can have up to 2,200 Marines,” said the US embassy website http://manila.usembassy.gov/pressandphotoreleases2014/uss-peleliu-germantown-arrive-participate-phiblex-15.html.
The US embassy also said the two warships “will support Philippine and U.S. troops in amphibious-operations training designed to strengthen military responses to regional issues, humanitarian disasters, and maritime-security needs within the Asia-Pacific region.”
Endangering the ‘last frontier’
“The Phiblex and other war games under the US-PH Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) are presenting heightened risks to our environment, as they are being situated in important ecosystems such as in the last frontier of Palawan,” said Clemente Bautista, national coordinator of Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment.
In 2013, the US Navy minesweeper USS Guardian trespassed into the protected Tubbataha Reef Park in Palawan, destroying reef that will take decades to regenerate.
“The impending military exercises, this time in the town’s Arrecife Island, now poses additional significant threats to the marine ecosystems that are part of the globally strategic Sulu-Sulawesi Ecoregion,” said Bautista.
Bautista said the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) cites the Sulu-Sulawesi Ecoregion as a world center of marine biodiversity featuring abundant coral reefs, seagrass beds, and mangrove forests.
He said there are more than 400 species of corals, 650 species of reef fishes, and five of the world’s seven species of marine turtles in the area.
Bautista pointed out other marine preserved areas in Subic Bay in Zambales, such as the Triboa Bay Mangrove Park and the Ilanin Forest Marine Reserve.
Under Edca, one of the “agreed locations” that the government is offering is Ulugan Bay, a rich biodiversity and fishing area in Palawan, where a naval station is being upgraded in preparation for the US troops basing.
“These are just the latest of a growing number of concrete evidence that the increasing military interventions of the US are a threat not only to our sovereignty and security, but especially to our environment.
Bautista said that PHIBLEX involves boat raid exercises at Arrecife Island in Sofronio Espanola town, Palawan; live-fire and combined live-fire exercises at Crow Valley in Capas town, Tarlac; and a mechanized assault exercise at the Naval Education Training Center in Zambales.
“A project or military activity that poses potential significant environmental disturbances should be banned in environmental critical areas in our country. A large-scale military activity involving 4,000 troops and two US warships in Palawan is most especially not an exception,” Bautista said.
Ridon called the Phiblex as “nothing but a soft launch for the Edca.” Activists have warned that Edca signals the return of the US military bases that were booted out of the country in 1991.
“In past years, we have seen how the US-PH war games have caused unparalleled violence rather than peace,” Ridon said in a statement.
“We continually denounce the war games for being a tool to exploit our resources and undermine our sovereignty. Yet we condemn EDCA even more, as this monstrous pact will create a situation far worse than anything we’ve experienced under any singular war game and the VFA,” Ridon said.
Under the VFA, US troops are given extraterritorial and extrajudicial rights, and are allowed to enter and leave the country during joint exercises, without going through immigration and other regular procedures for foreigners entering the country.
“Under EDCA, US troops will have rent-free access of bases, camps, facilities, roads, ports and unspecified ‘agreed locations’ in the Philippines,” said Ridon.
The youth solon said that in preparation for the Phiblex 15, “the US Marines have set up communication interception equipment, including a VSAT-Large satellite dish, and six tons of other communications
equipment including walkie-talkies, computers and generators.” Ridon, however, did not specify where.
Critics of VFA and Edca had pointed out that the entry of US troops and nuclear-powered warships violates the 1987 Constitution which maintains a nuclear-free policy.
Ridon said Phiblex contributes to “increasing, rather than easing, tensions in the West Philippine Sea.”
“Organizers of the PHIBLEX themselves admit that the military exercises have nothing to do with China’s incursion in the West Philippine Sea. In other words, these US warships are not here to drive away China from Panatag Shoal. Yet what the US Navy fails to highlight is the threat their presence brings to peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific Region,” Ridon said.
“The entry of a foreign military – especially that of the US – in an area rife with conflict, only complicates the situation in the West Philippine Sea,” said Ridon.
For his part, Bautista said the Edca must be scrapped, and the VFA repealed. He called for “a moratorium on all US-PH military activity until these onerous policies are removed, concrete environmental guidelines covering all kinds of military operations are put in place, and independent foreign policies especially on security and the economy are implemented.”