Fil-Am Youth Condemn 2011 Balikatan Exercises, Call to Junk the VFA
We condemn, in the strongest possible terms, the Balikatan joint US-RP military exercises currently being held in the Philippines. This shameless act, committed by the US and Philippine governments, only deepens the relentless suffering that the Filipino and American people are going through. While the U.S. government continues to slash funding to vital social services, the Obama administration continues its expensive military intervention in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and in the Philippines.
In the latest series of joint military exercises called “Balikatan” or Shoulder-to-shoulder, a total of 3,000 US troops were deployed to the Philippines last week, under the auspices of the Visiting Forces Agreement or VFA. In 1998, under then-President Joseph Ejercito Estrada, the VFA was signed and ratified by the Philippine Senate. This opened the doors for the return of U.S. troops in the Philippines after they were ejected by the Filipino people’s movement against the presence of U.S. military bases in 1991.
The Balikatan exercises are supposedly aimed to help train and modernize the Armed Forces of the Philippines while US troops receive training in guerilla fighting. Under this guise, thousands of US servicemen have entered the Philippines since 2001, most come and go without proper endorsement to the Philippine government.
To add insult to the injury, these military training exercises have resulted in human rights violations, injuries and deaths among civilians. In 2005, the country was shocked by the gang rape of a 22-year-old woman referred to as “Nicole” by 4 U.S. servicemen. In 2008, 4 U.S. troops were involved in a massacre in Sulu Province, wherein 8 were killed, including women and children. In 2010, Gregan Cardeño was found dead inside a military facility being used by an elite unit of the U.S. Special Forces. Cardeño was recruited by a private military contractor to serve as an interpreter for the U.S. Forces in Mindanao. Less than two months later, Capt. Javier Ignacio of the Philippine Army – a friend who helped recruit Cardeño and was helping the family shed light on his death – was gunned down on his way to a meeting with a human rights group conducting an independent investigation on the case. Despite continuous denial, U.S. troops’ involvement in the actual combat operations of the Philippine military, particularly in its counter-insurgency campaign, has been exposed time and time again by the trail of their civilian victims’ blood. Without a doubt, the Balikatan Exercises continue to facilitate violations of human rights and Philippine sovereignty.
This should be viewed in the context of the U.S. government’s systematic elimination of its public education system through budget cuts. Last year alone, the education sector received a devastating allocation of only 3%, or $140 B, of the total government budget. This is nothing compared to the 24%, or $929B, budget allocation that the military receives. This results in the elimination of pre-K programs, closures and privatization of high schools and increases in college tuition.
While here in the US, Filipino and other low-income, immigrant youth are being targeted to fill the ranks of the US Armed Forces. The lack of affordable education, health care, and jobs makes our high school youth prime targets for recruitment. But as we’ve seen with veterans returning from the various overseas conflicts the US is involved in, service comes with a heavy physical and mental cost. The US government is even trying to entice undocumented immigrants with a path to citizenship if they agree to serve in the military. We find it appalling that Filipinos are forced out of their home country because of the lack of opportunity, are forced to join the armed forces because of the continued lack of opportunity in America, then are sent back to their homeland to teach the Philippine military how to terrorize and destroy progressive movements who seek to disrupt this disgusting cycle of violence.
We demand an immediate termination of the Balikatan Exercises and a halt to U.S. military aid to the Philippines. It is of the interest of every youth and student here in the U.S. to join the call of our brothers and sisters in the Philippines for the termination of these useless military exercises and to demand the re-channeling of our tax dollars to save our public education system and other basic social services here at home.
US troops out of the Philippines now!
Junk the Visiting Forces Agreement!
Fund our education, not military aggression!