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MANILA — The recent deaths of two US soldiers in Sulu have strengthened calls for the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Philippines and the United States.

Staff Sgt. Jack Martin and Sgt. First Class Christopher Shaw were killed together with a Philippine Marine identified only as a Private First Class Estrada on Sept. 28 when their vehicle struck a landmine in Barangay Kagay, Indanan town, Sulu.

Members of the Mindanao-based human rights group Kawagib visited Sulu in the wake of the Sept. 28 explosion and reported being informed by residents of Barangay Kagay that the vehicle which carried Martin, Shaw and Estrada was on its way to Barangay Batu-Bato, also in Indanan, transporting supplies.

“But they didn’t know what kind of supplies these were,” Kawagib secretary-general Bai Ali Indayla told Bulatlat in an interview. “These could have been food; these could also have been bullets.”

Kawagib members also reported that since the explosion, the military has conducted indiscriminate aerial bombings not only in Indanan, but also in nearby Panamao. A bridge leading to Maimbung and Parang was also shelled.

According to Indayla, the deaths of Martin and Shaw have raised fears among Sulu’s residents that the US may intervene and cause the escalation of the armed conflict in their province. “In fact, so many have evacuated for fear of being caught in the crossfire,” she told Bulatlat.

Indayla said the deaths of Martin and Shaw only serves to underscore the urgency of abrogating the VFA.

Passed by the Philippine Senate in 1999 and signed that same year by then President Joseph Estrada, the VFA grants extraterritorial and extrajudicial “rights” to US servicemen visiting the Philippines. It made possible the Balikatan military exercises, which have been held annually since 2002; and is also invoked to justify the presence of the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P).

The VFA has several times courted controversy in the last decade, with critics assailing it for violating sovereignty, among other reasons. Others have also pointed to the social costs of US military presence in the Philippines, not the least of which, they say, are the rise in prostitution and other forms of abuse against women.

The explosion that killed Martin, Shaw, and Estrada took place just days after the passage of a Senate resolution calling for the renegotiation or termination of the VFA.

On Sept. 23, the Senate passed without objection Senate Resolution No. 1356 calling for a renegotiation or termination of the VFA. Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, chairperson of the Legislative Oversight Committee on the VFA (Lovfa), sponsored the resolution, with senators Rodolfo Biazon, Joker Arroyo, Richard Gordon, Gregorio Honasan II, Panfilo Lacson, and Francis Pangilinan as co-sponsors.

But for Roland Simbulan, an expert on Philippine-US foreign and military relations, the call should go beyond renegotiation.

“Why just renegotiate when we do not need an onerous treaty like this?” Simbulan said in an interview with Bulatlat. “The call should be for immediate abrogation.”

Among the issues Santiago raised in her sponsorship speech for SR 1356 was that of the length of time that US troops are allowed to stay in the Philippines. This is an issue on which the VFA is silent. The VFA’s preamble merely states that “from time to time elements of the United States armed forces may visit the Republic of the Philippines.” Within the VFA, the term “United States personnel” is defined as “United States military and civilian personnel temporarily in the Philippines in connection with activities approved by the Philippine Government.”

“In the language of constitutional law, the VFA is void for vagueness, because it fails to define the terms ‘visit,’ ‘temporary,’ and ‘military activities,’” Santiago said. “Under the vagueness doctrine, it is impermissible for a statute to delegate basic policy matters to administrators, to such a degree as to lead to arbitrary and discriminatory application.”

According to Simbulan, the issue goes beyond the length of time that US troops can stay in the Philippines.

“First, there is the issue of unequal treatment before our own laws,” Simbulan said. “Why should groups of armed foreign soldiers entering our territory be given special rights and privileges like exemption from our immigration, customs and quarantine laws, exemption from berthing and port fees, Land Transportation Office requirements, and even being given special treatment in case of violations of our criminal laws or other laws in the country? There is no reciprocity for these rights and privileges that we have given them, which are not even accorded to foreign diplomats.”

Second, Simbulan added, “why are we allowing and even inviting foreign troops to interfere with our internal problems like kidnapping cases, and other peace and order problems? Rebellion and insurgency are also internal problems that our government is asking them to interfere in clandestinely. Otherwise, why are the Balikatan joint training exercises which are ostensibly the ‘activities’ being covered by the VFA being held in the most volatile areas of our country? If these were purely for military training purposes, then they should be held outside the conflict areas like in the Philippine Army training camps in Nueva Ecija or in Tanay, Rizal.”

He said that “under the cover or let me even call it camouflage of the VFA and Balikatan, we have allowed foreign troops to engage in secret combat operations for counter-insurgency, even allowing them to construct ‘forward operating bases’ inside Philippine Army camps, which is a violation of the Philippine Constitution. Official US documents call them ‘forward operating bases’, but US Embassy officials here and the Armed Forces of the Philippines still deny that they are bases.”

Allowing them to engage in counterinsurgency in both covert or overt ways is already in violation of the Constitution, Simbulan said. “US specialists in counterinsurgency, covert operations, psy-ops and intelligence from the elite units of the US Army are already here actively involved in combat by being embedded in many combat units of the local armed forces. But usually, they engage in their own ‘surgical missions’ independently. This is a transgression of our national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he pointed out.

“So the issue of their length of time in their stay here is an issue, but not the fundamental issue. They can always skirt this issue by rotating their troops for a specified time but keep their presence all year round, as they have been doing since 2002 in the permanent military bases and facilities worth more than $14 million that they have constructed.”

A press release by the US Department of Defense described Martin and Shaw as being “in the Philippines supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.”

Operation Enduring Freedom is the official name given to the US government’s military response to the terrorist attack of Sept. 11, 2001 in New York City. It entails a series of anti-“terrorism” activities in Afghanistan, the Philippines, the Horn of Africa, Trans-Sahara, and Pakinsi Gorge.

The Philippine Constitution prohibits foreign military presence in the country, “except under a treaty duly concurred in by the Senate and, when the Congress so requires, ratified by a majority of the votes cast by the people in a national referendum held for that purpose, and recognized as a treaty by the other contracting State.”

The US government does not recognize the VFA as a treaty, but merely considers it an “executive agreement”.

“For us, the VFA should have been abrogated a long time ago,” Indayla said. “With this incident that claimed the lives of two American soldiers, residents of Sulu are fearful that the war in their province will escalate.” (Bulatlat.com)

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This is a recent report in the GMA Network’s Regional News regarding Balikatan in Bicol.

NDF calls for opposition to ‘Balikatan’ in Bicol

MANILA, Philippines – Communist rebels have vowed to resist the upcoming RP-US Balikatan exercises that will be held in the Bicol region this year.National Democratic Front of the Philippines-Bicol spokesman Gregorio Bañares said residents in the region should not be fooled by US claims of “humanitarian missions.”

“Para sa US, magkasinghalaga ang pagpatay ng isang ekstremista at ang mga ‘humanitarian missions’ sa kontra-insurhensya. Kung kaya’t ginagamit nito ang mga pekeng ‘humanitarian missions’ upang magsarbey ng karagatan at kalupaan ng bansa at maniktik laban sa rebolusyunaryong kilusan (For the United States, the humanitarian missions are just a cover for surveying Philippine terrain and spying on the revolutionary movement),” Bañares said in a statement on the Communist Party of the Philippines website.

Several provinces in Bicol are considered infested by New People’s Army (NPA), armed wing of the CPP and NDFP.

On the other hand, Bañares said the exercises are a form of US military intervention.

This is a form of US military intervention that violates our national sovereignty and territorial integrity, he said.

Because of these, he urged residents in Bicol to resist the Balikatan exercises, which are reportedly due to start this February.

“Walang bandidong Abu Sayyaf o anumang teroristang grupo sa Bikol, at wala ring malalang kalamidad sa nakaraang dalawang taon upang gawing batayan ng BALIKATAN EXERCISES. Malinaw na ang tunay na pakay ng tropang US ay makialam sa palpak na counter-insurgency program ng AFP laban sa CPP-NPA-NDF (There is no Abu Sayyaf or terrorist group in Bicol. Neither is there any calamity. It is clear that the objective of the Balikatan exercise is to bolster the government’s failed counterinsurgency efforts),” he said. GMANews.TV

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TV Patrol Bicol episode January 8, 2009, reported the recently conducted AFP-Bicol press conference with regards to the 25th Balikatan exercises in Bicol which will commence by April, 2009.

According to declarations of US Military and AFP spokespersons, the provinces chosen as the primary sites of Balikatan are Masbate, Sorsogon and Albay. They will be concentrating in the 3rd district of Albay, Municipalities of Uson and Mobo in Masbate and Municipalities of Juban and Irosin in Sorsogon.

The US Military spokesperson, Captain Kelly Schmader declared that they are committed to conducting Humanitarian Missions and nothing else.

By the 1st week of April, Medical Missions will be commenced and even veterinarians will also be available.

By the 2nd week of April, they will start the Infrastructure project, wherein construction of water facilities will be the priority. The construction materials for these projects will be purchased mainly in Bicol to help the industry.

The US Government/US Military had initially budgeted $450,000 USD for these projects.

Watch the full report about this at TV Patrol Bicol, January 8, 2009 episode by downloading the video.

What the US Military says about this Balikatan exercises in Bicol being purely Humanitarian Missions is all very well, but we must not forget that they have also said the same about the previous Balikatan exercises in Mindanao which culminated to cases of civilian executions, killings, damage of property, and other military atrocities and abuses of power committed shamelessly by no less than US military servicemen and AFP personnel who are part of the Balikatan.

Let us also not forget about the Subic Rape Case wherein several members of US troops from Balikatan were involved – Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith and 3 other US military servicemen were convicted of sexually assaulting and gang raping 22 year-old Nicole, a Filipino.

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BAGONG ALYANSANG MAKABAYAN – SORSOGON

Pahayag Sa Media
Enero 8, 2009

ANG BALIKATAN AY INSTRUMENTO NG
PANDAIGDIGANG TERORISMO NG US SA PILIPINAS

Nandito na sa Lalawigan ng Sorsogon ang BALIKATAN, isang magkasanib na ehersisyong militar ng armadong pwersa ng US at ng Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), sa ilalim ng Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) at Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA). Layunin diumano ng BALIKATAN na sanayin at paunlarin ang kakayahan ng AFP sa pagsugpo sa terorismo.

Isinagawa na ang BALIKATAN sa iba’t ibang panig ng Pilipinas: sa Gitnang Luzon, Basilan, Sulu, Zamboanga, at iba pang mga probinsya sa Gitna at Kanlurang Mindanao. Nag-iiwan ng malaking pinsala sa kalikasan, kapaligiran, at pamumuhay ng mamamayan ang BALIKATAN, huwag nang banggitin pa ang napakaraming malulubhang paglabag sa karapatang pantao ng mga mamamayang naninirahan sa mga lugar na pinagdausan nito. Taliwas ito sa ipinangakong pag-unlad ng mga komunidad sa sandaling ang BALIKATAN ay idaos sa mga ito..

Mariing tinututulan ng BAYAN-Sorsogon ang paglulunsad ng BALIKATAN dito sa ating lalawigan:

Una, ito ay labag sa soberanya at panteritoryong integridad ng Pilipinas. Ito ay labag din sa ating Saligang Batas na nagbabawal ng pagkakaroon ng dayuhang base militar at dayuhang tropang militar sa ating bayan;

Pangalawa, ito ay hindi para sa interes ng sambayanang Pilipino, kundi para sa mapandambong na pang-ekonomiyang interes at disenyo ng imperyalistang US sa Pilipinas;

Pangatlo, ito ay mas lalong magpapalubha sa sitwasyon ng insurhensya sa ating lalawigan. Napakalaking banta sa kapayapaan ng lalawigan ang presensya ng mga tropang Amerikano dito;

Pang-apat, katulad ng nangyari sa Basilan at Sulu, ang BALIKATAN dito sa atin ay maaaring humantong sa pagkalulubhang paglabag sa karapatang pantao ng mga sibilyan tulad ng walang pakundangang pamamaril, panununog ng bahay, sapilitang pagpapalikas, paninira ng mga ari-arian at komunidad, pamamaslang, pananakit at marami pang iba;

Panglima, ito ay magiging dahilan ng paglaganap ng prostitusyon at pagkalat ng mga nakahahawang sakit na tulad ng AIDS, herpes, syphilis at gonorrhea, at paglaganap din ng mga droga at kriminalidad at iba pang gawaing anti-sosyal sa lalawigan; at,

Panghuli, ipinaiilalim nito ang mga lokal na pamahalaan sa sarili nitong programa sa mga lugar na pinaglulunsaran nito. Halimbawa ay ang naganap na insidente sa pagdating ng mga sundalo na magkokondukta ng inspeksyon sa Juban at Irosin na siyang site ng BALIKATAN nitong Enero 7. Isang malaking breach of protocol na ang mga tropang Amerikano ang puntahan ni Gob. Sally A. Lee sa Juban sa halip na ang mga ito ang magpunta sa luklukan ng pamahalaang panlalawigan sa Kabisera ng Sorsogon upang magbigay galang sa pinuno ng lalawigan.

Walang ganansya ang mamamayan ng Sorsogon sa BALIKATAN. Ito ay nakadisenyo sa gera at panghihimasok na hindi maaaring pagtakpan ng mga humanitarian, medical at dental missions at mga construction at infrastructure projects. Nagmamaskara lamang ang imperyalismong US sa likod ng mga proyektong ito. Ang tunay na mukha at intensyon ng US ay makikita sa gerang agresyon nito sa Iraq at Afghanistan at panghihimasok sa mga bayang lumalaban sa imperyalistang pandarambong.

Huwag tayong magpapalinlang. Hindi ang mga kilusan sa pambansang pagpapalaya, mga pambansang demokratikong organisasyon, at mga mamamayang lumalaban sa US ang mga terorista. Ang US ang NUMERO UNONG TERORISTA sa buong daigdig.

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RP, US announce April Balikatan Exercises 2009 in Bicol
By Celso Amo Updated January 08, 2009 03:30 PM

LEGAZPI CITY—Representatives of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the United States have announced that the Balikatan Exercise this year will be conducted this coming April in the Bicol region.

Major Llewellyn Binasoy, chief of the Research and Special Concerns Division of the Civil Military Operations of the AFP, said the Balikatan Exercise, which is an annual bilateral military exercise between the Philippines and the United States for the past 15 years will be held in April.

“At present, both forces are now in the process of detailed planning in consultation with local stakeholders to ensure the success of the scheduled Balikatan Exercise 2009,” said Binasoy during a press briefing at the conference room of the Venezia Hotel here this morning.

Binasoy said the primary objective of the exercise is to improve the inter-operability of both forces for mutual defense in accordance with the Mutual Defense Treaty.

“While the primary function remains to make both forces ready to aid each other, the conduct of the exercise has evolved and is continuously evolving,” Binasoy said, adding that for this year, the Balikatan Exercise will help communities in the Bicol Region by conducting medical, dental, veterinary and other humanitarian assistance like repair of school buildings, put up water systems and construct farm to market roads.

Capt. Kelly Schmader, commander of the 13th Naval Construction Regiment of the United States Pacific Fleet, said that some 450 US personnel will be joining the military exercises.

Thee cost of the project is shouldered jointly by both parties with the US allotting some $450,000.

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Here are last year’s news gathered and found online regarding the Joint RP-US War Exercises BALIKATAN in Bicol.

From Balita.ph, October 22, 2008

RP-US Balikatan set in Bicol next year

LEGAZPI CITY, Oct. 20 — Preparations are underway for the holding of an RP-US Balikatan exercise next year in Bicol, a top military official said over the weekend.

From Mindanao, a war-torn region of Southern Philippines, the RP-US Balikatan exercises will be moving to the Bicol Peninsula early next year, the military official of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) who requested not to be named said.

He said the exercise will be held in Bicol by February next year, following an advance survey of the RP-US Balikatan working group that had visited the provinces of Albay and Sorsogon including the island province of Masbate over the weekend here to take a look at the Bicol terrain and territory.

Bicol is an ideal site for the exercise because of its areas in terms of land, sea and air.

Military reports said Bicol is one of the hotbeds of insurgency for the past three decades. The provinces of Albay and Sorsogon are considered hot spots as far as the insurgency problem is concerned.

Undersecretary Edilberto Adan of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), in-charge of the RP-US military exercise, in his visit here last year said there was a strong possibility for a joint RP-US Balikatan to be held in Bicol because the area is very suitable for a joint military exercise.

He said the joint military exercise would be beneficial to the country, specifically the AFP, who would learn new techniques in warfare, including the latest weapons while the US soldiers would learn more from us new jungle warfare maneuvers with the terrain the region has.

The site inspection was confirmed by Army Col. Ariel Bernardo, commanding officer of the Army’s 901st Infantry Brigade based in Daraga, Albay.

Bernardo’s brigade covers the territories of Albay, Sorsogon and the two island provinces of Catanduanes and Masbate.

Bernardo said the advance party conducted initial location survey visits last October 8-12 for probable sites of the joint military exercises.

Bernardo, said the exercise would include, among others, humanitarian missions such as construction of school building, water system facilities and farm to market road with medical and dental mission components.

For instance, the US troops will also conduct a humanitarian mission in the municipality of Cabusao in Camarines Sur.

In 2006, the US Navy Seabees partnered with the Armed Forces of the Philippines in aiding the typhoon-stricken communities in Bicol region especially typhoon-ravaged Albay after super typhoon Reming battered the region November that year, killing more than 1,000 people and rendering 30,000 families homeless.

The usual joint RP-US military exercises would last for six months under the Balikatan’s Terms of Reference (TOR). US contingents are assigned to brigade-level units and allowed battalion-level operations as observers, trainors and advisers although they are prohibited from operating on their own. (PNA) ###

From Bicol Mail, October 23, 2008

All set for RP-US Balikatan in Bicol

CAMP ELIAS ANGELES, Pili, Camarines Sur — The Bicol Region has been considered as the latest site for the conduct of “Balikatan 2009,” a humanitarian mission being carried out jointly by the Philippine and the United States governments.

In fact, last October 8–11, 2008 the Civil-Military Operations (CMO) Technical Working Group of the RP–US Balikatan 2009 and a contingent from the 9th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army already conducted a site survey of the calamity prone areas in the provinces of Albay, Sorsogon, Masbate and Camarines Sur.

Balikatan 2009 will mainly focus on medical and dental mission, veterinary and some engineering activities like construction of water system, school buildings and repair of roads.

Major Christopher A. Morales, PA spokesman and Chief of the Division Public Affairs Office, 9th Infantry (Spear) Division, Philippine Army, explained that Balikatan is an annual bilateral RP/US exercises committed to promote interoperability, security and stability.

The Philippines and the US have a long relationship which includes the more than 57–year Mutual Defense Treaty which was signed in 1957, the longest in RP/US history. Under the Visiting Forces Agreement that the two countries signed, the U.S. will continue to honor its commitment to support the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

According to Maj. Gen. Jeffrey S. Sodusta, Commander of 9ID, the feasible conduct of humanitarian activity as part of Balikatan 2009 (shoulder – to – shoulder) here in Bicol Region will bring improvement to the community particularly in uplifting the living and health condition of the residents in areas covered by the joint exercises. He stressed that the joint activity in Bicol is not meant to be military training exercise but a humanitarian and charitable gesture aimed at winning the hearts and minds of the people, especially those who are in need of government support and assistance in terms of health care and infrastructure and livelihood development.


AN RP – US BALIKATAN team confers with civilians (left photo) as its members visit possible sites to be covered by the 6-monh joint humanitarian mission in Bicol. Engineers from a US contingent (right photo) survey a road to be recommended for rehabilitation when the Balikatan exercises formally start.

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From Business Mirror, October 26, 2008:

RP-US Balikatan transfers to Bicol

LEGAZPI CITY—From Mindanao, where separatist rebels and Moro bandits are operating, Filipino and American soldiers will move in early next year to the insurgency-torn Bicol region for 2009’s version of RP-US Balikatan Exercise.

The war games will take place under the noses of the communist rebels holed out at the outskirts of Albay, Camarines Sur, Masbate, Catanduanes and Sorsogon, all Bicol provinces described as hotbeds of the rebellion staged by the communist New People’s Army (NPA), which has been fighting for the establishment of a Marxist state for the past four decades.

As part of the preparations for the military exercise, an advance party of the Balikatan contingent conducted early this month a weeklong survey on the target areas in five of the six Bicol provinces, Col. Ariel Bernardo, commander of the Army’s 901st Infantry Brigade based in Daraga, Albay, said over the weekend.

The province of Camarines Norte, which is outside the Bicol Peninsula, has been excluded from the coverage of the joint military exercises.

Bernardo, whose Army brigade is in charge of counterinsurgency operations in these provinces, except Camarines Sur, said Bicol has been classified as an ideal site for the military exercises because it covers land, sea and air territories that are suited to combat maneuvers.

The region has vast jungles, wide sea area and open-air territories that are strategically positioned for the Balikatan activities, he said.

Likewise, in an earlier visit to this city, Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Edilberto Adan, chairman of the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement Commission that oversees the implementation of the RP-US Balikatan Exercise, clarified that Balikatan is not intended to fight the communist insurgents in the area but the participating troops will fight back to defend themselves if attacked by the rebels.

The joint military exercises will familiarize Filipino soldiers with the modern techniques in warfare, particularly the use of sophisticated weapons, while the Americans would learn new jungle combat operations, Adan said.

The NPA rebels could watch the RP-US war games from a distance, Adan said, adding the benefits that Bicol could derive from Balikatan are the humanitarian activities like medical missions and civic actions such as the construction of school building, roads and other infrastructure that would be conducted during the conduct of the exercise.

After Supertyphoons Reming and Milenyo left hundreds of people dead and rendered heavy damage to many areas in Bicol in late 2006, US Navy Seabees provided relief assistance to distressed communities in the region.

Last week the USS Reuben James (FFG-57), an Oliver-Hazard Perry-Class guided missile frigate, dropped anchor at the Albay Gulf off the coastline here for a weeklong community service to poor city residents. It also delivered medical supplies to the City Health Office.

US warships call on the area as part of the preparations for the Balikatan that is expected to start in February next year.

It will be the 25th joint RP-US war exercise.###

BAN BALIKATAN, an alliance of concerned nationalist and patriotic Bicolanos, opposes and condemns the conduct of BALIKATAN in Bicol since this joint military exercise only ensures the heightened US military intervention in our country.

Opposition and condemnation of the 25th Joint RP-US Military Exercises or BALIKATAN in Bicol has already been a major issue by Bagong Alyansang Makabayan – Bicol (BAYAN-Bicol), KARAPATAN-Bicol and various progressive and nationalist media, professionals and church people during the International Human Rights Day rallies last December 10, 2008.

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