“When it comes to modernization, we got a big zero.”
By DEE AYROSO
MANILA – Progressive groups criticized the Aquino administration for continuing the country’s “dependency” on joint military trainings with the US, which they said had not resulted to improving the country’s military capability, and only violated Philippine national sovereignty.
Groups led by the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) trooped to the US embassy on Roxas Boulevard on April 20, to protest the opening of the 31st Ph-US Balikatan joint military exercises.
The annual Balikatan, which is covered by the Mutual Defense Treaty and the Visiting Forces Agreement, takes place amidst the China’s increasing aggression in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
The protesters also expressed support to Venezuela, as part of the World Great Day of Solidarity with Venezuela in the face of US sanctions.
“The AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) said the Balikatan aims to develop maneuver capabilities for defense. But our troops can’t even reach the disputed islands because we have no ships,” said Renato Reyes Jr, Bayan secretary general, at the protest.
Reyes said that the Balikatan had been touted to help the AFP modernization, but instead, the AFP was given “hand-me-downs” and “ukay-ukay” war vehicles and materiel.
He noted that the AFP still uses Vietnam War-era Huey helicopters. Reyes also cited the Philippine Navy frigate BRP Gregorio del Pilar, a 1967 Hamilton-classcutter which had been decommissioned by the US Navy in 2011, and was transferred to and commissioned by the Philippines that same year.
“When it comes to modernization, we got a big zero,” Reyes said.
Anakpawis partylist Rep. Fernando Hicap said in a statement that the Balikatan trainings is “a simple buy-and-sell” event for the US, and has no connection to defense capability-building.
“One objective of the US is to train Filipino soldiers in using US-made weaponries, so as to obligate us to purchase and for them to profit,” said Hicap.
The Ph-US bilateral military exercises 2015 will last up to April 30, involving some 5,000 US troops and 6,000 Filipino soldiers, and also members of the Australian Defense Force, says the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
“Humanitarian civic assistance” activities which are part of Balikatan had kicked off two weeks ago, with US troops participating in a school-building project in Puerto Princesa in Palawan, and first responders trainings in Jamindan and Tapaz, in Capiz province, Panay island.
“Field Training Exercises” will be held in Crow Valley Gunnery Range, Tarlac, Basa Air Base and Clark Air Base in Pampanga, Fort Magsaysay, Nueva Ecija, Marine Base Gregorio Lim in Ternate, Cavite, Naval Base Heracleo Alano in Sangley Point, Cavite and at the Naval Station Leovigildo Gantiouqui in San Antonio, Zambales.
“Our problem is, the US is riding on this problem with China,” Reyes said. He said the US is “using” the West Philippine Sea dispute to intervene in Philippine affairs, although it has no intention to engage China in war, being indebted to it by $1.3 trillion.
Reyes said that China is no longer a socialist republic, and had turned against the principles of its late revolutionary leader and socialist President Mao Zedong.
“Since 1978, it has turned capitalist, and they want to strengthen their force to strengthen their economy, that is why they are claiming 80 percent of the South China Sea,” he said.
Anakpawis’s Hicap hit Aquino for not standing up against China nor the US: “China is bullish as they clearly understand that Aquino is just a US lackey who cannot rally the Filipino behind him against them.”
Bayan chairperson Dr. Carol Pagaduan-Araullo criticized the civil-military aspect of Balikatan as “basically underhanded moves of the US government to sugarcoat its military intervention in the country, which is basically there to serve to back up its long-standing policy of political and economic intervention in the country.”
Araullo said that with the US government’s declared “pivot to Asia” and shift of 60 percent of its military forces to the area, the Philippines is an important post “for US troops, war materiels and ships and nuclear weapons, for overt and covert operations.”
“Those humanitarian school projects are part of overt operations to deodorize their military presence in the country,” she said.
Araullo also noted that in the aftermath of Yolanda, the US is the only country that sent in military troops and warships, while other countries sent civilian, medical and disaster-response teams.
Reyes said that the Philippines must assert its sovereignty and independence, to be able to develop its military capability and defend its territory.
“National freedom and sovereignty is the key,” he said. Reyes cited the example of Vietnam which won in its war against the US, and had developed their economy.
Bayan spokesperson and former Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño used a common American expletive to send the message: “Get the fuck out of the Philippines. The people don’t want you, the Filipino people don’t need you, so get the fuck out of the Philippines.”