By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — The US-Philippines Balikatan exercises are also a bane against the environment.
This is the assertion of newly-formed environmental party Kalikasan Party-List as it said that the Filipino public should be aware of the destructive social, political and environmental impacts of the 2012 Balikatan exercises.
Kalikasan party-list secretary-general Frances Quimpo said that the military exercises have been proven to be enormously taxing on the environment and local communities.
“In the past Balikatan exercises, war and combat simulations which involved naval maneuverings and live fire exercises have caused coral reef destruction and ecological pollution. These activities also consumed massive resources like fossil fuels and released large volumes of toxic waste into air, land and sea.”
Quimpo said that the exercises will also negatively impact on the marine and forest ecosystem in Palawan where the 28th US-PH Balikatan military training exercises between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and US soldiers of the US Pacific Command (USPACOM) are currently being held.
Some 4,500 military troops from the USPACON are training with 2,300 Filipino troops. Palawan province is widely-recognized by environmentalists as the last ecological frontier of the country. Palawan is also the nearest landmass to the highly contested Spratlys group of islands.
Quimpo said that in 2004, US naval ships participating in Balikatan exercises were found to have indiscriminately discharged sewage waste and oil into the Subic Bay.
“There are also records where naval ships which participated in Balikatan exercises accidentally fired live ammunition over local communities like in Zambales province in 2000. In Cebu, young waste pickers were accidentally killed when they unknowingly acquired live ordinance left by military troops which participated in the exercises,” she said.
Quimpo said that the current military exercises are also certain to exact a heavy toll on the pristine environment of Palawan and its surrounding marine ecology.
“Not only Palawenos but all Filipinos should oppose the anti-environment Balikatan exercises. The local government units in Palawan province and Puerto Princesa can declare their area as a Balikatan-military exercise free-zone like what Davao City did,” Quimpo said.
Based on a paper by ecologist Paul J.M. Vertegaala of the State Department of Public Works and Water Management, Section Noord-Holland, the contribution of the military sector to the world-wide environmental degradation problem is estimated at more than six percent, resulting from its share in the gross international product and the heavy character of military practice in both war and peace-time.
“The military use of such poisonous and often rare elements as thallium, thorium, copper, beryllium, cadmium, zinc, and lead, varies from about 10 to 40 percent of their total national use,” he said.
According to an August 2002 Briefing Paper for States and Non-Governmental Organisations of the International Peace Bureau in Geneva, Switzerland, such military activities place a number of stresses on the physical environment, but their contribution to over-all environmental deterioration has not received its share of attention.
“There are several reasons for this. One is that the military is not seen as an ‘industry’, yet in many ways it behaves like one. Another is that states operate a double standard: they are not willing to subject their armed forces to the levels of transparency and accountability that are required of other governmental or civil society actors,” the paper stated,
The IPB said that Military activity affects the physical environment in the direct ways; through pollution of the air, land, and water in peacetime; through the immediate and long-term effects of armed conflict; through militarization of outer space; through nuclear weapons development and production; and finally through land use.
“The world’s military forces are responsible for the release of more than two thirds of CFC-113 into the ozone layer. During the Cold War, the US and Soviet armed forces produced enormous amounts of hazardous wastes. As a result of naval accidents there are at least 50 nuclear warheads and 11 nuclear reactors littering the ocean floor. There are more nuclear reactors at sea than on land. The Pentagon generates five times more toxins than the five major US chemical companies combined. The US military is the largest single source of US environmental pollution. The cost of clean-up of military related sites is estimated to be upwards of US $500 billion. This is in addition to the bill for clean-up of former Soviet military activities – a bill still largely unpaid,” it said.
For his part, the national coordinator of Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (PNE) said that ecological damage, toxic wastes and live ordnance are among the dangerous effects of US military exercises on the Philippines’ ecological health.
“During exercises, the military use live ammunitions, employ heavy bombardment, and use mammoth vehicles like tanks and ships. These have a massive ecological footprint that affects forests, mountains, and coastal areas. At the same time, these pollutive and wasteful activities endanger the safety and lives of communities near the exercise area,” explains Clemente Bautista Jr, national coordinator of Kalikasan PNE.
“For this reason alone, the Philippine government should stop conducting joint military exercises and abrogate the VFA. The premise of VFA is to allow US military forces to engage in military exercises to take place all over the Philippines. We should protect our sovereign right to a healthful and balanced environment and stop the entry of US troops in our lands,” he said.
Earth Day 2012 Against Mining
The two groups also held simultaneous celebrations of Earth Day 2012 last April 21 in different parts of the Philippines. Protest activities were held in Quezon City, Iloilo City, Lipa City, Nueva Vizcaya, Negros Occidental and Davao City.
In Quezon City, the groups formed a human chain in Quezon Memorial Circle symbolizing their unity demanding that the Aquino administration implement a nationwide large-scale mining moratorium. At the same time, allied groups joined protest caravans in Davao and Iloilo calling to stop large-scale mining operations in Southern Mindanao Region and Panay Region. The protests ccovered at least eight provinces in the said regions.
Fisherfolk in Negros Occidental also held a fluvial parade to call for an end toChinese magnetite mining in EB Magalona in the said province.
“Large-scale mining is one of the major causes of biodiversity loss, marine degradation, and deforestation in the country. With these widespread and intensive environmental degradation, it is high time that we have an immediate moratorium on large-scale mining,” Bautista said.
In Batangas and Davao City, the green groups are also pressing for a moratorium on large-scale mining and the passage of no mining ordinances.
Francis Morales of Panalipdan (Defend) Mindanao, a Mindanao-wide environmental alliance, said that the passage of a no mining ordinance in Davao City will strengthen the protection of ecosystems in the cities.
“We are sending our strong message to President Aquino that we are against the liberalized, pollutive, and destructive mining in Panay and in the entire country,” said Hope Hervilla of the Defend Patrimony Panay-Guimaras.
Under the Aquino administration, 353 new mining agreements have so far been approved. Aquino also gave his commitment to Chinese investors and signed at least four mining agreements which will supposedly bring the govenment US$ 14 billion in investments. Aquino has also exempted six large-scale mining companies, including New Zealand-owned OceanaGold Corp., Japanese-owned RioTuba Nickel Mining Corp. and UK-based FCF Minerals Corp., from being covered by Executive Order 23 which prohibits logging in old growth and residual forests.