Olongapo SubicBay BatangGapo Newscenter

Monday, February 16, 2004


About 700 US marines landed in this former US naval base yesterday for the annual Balikatan military exercises to help train Filipino soldiers fight al-Qaeda-linked terrorists.
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US marines from Okinawa, Japan are part of a 2,500-strong American contingent taking part in live-fire and combat maneuvers from Feb. 23 to March 7.
The marines are an advance party of the US troops who will take part in the training exercises with some 2,300 Filipino soldiers until March 7.
"Other troops will arrive as days progress," a US military spokesman said.
The first batch would be stationed at a Philippine Marine base in Ternate, Cavite and in Puerto Prin-cesa City in Palawan for civic action, the spokesman added.
Clad in camouflage uniforms, US marines descended down a gangplank from a leased, high-speed ship with containers of supplies, Humvees, forklifts, rifles and other military equipment to a pier at Subic Bay.
They were welcomed by Chairman Felicito Payumo of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) as "our visitors."
The exercises, designed to improve the combat readiness of the Filipino and American troops, are conducted under the 1951 RP-US Mutual Defense Treaty.
American and Filipino soldiers will also hold a beach landing exercise off mountainous Aurora province near strongholds of the New People’s Army (NPA).
The guerrillas have warned that the Americans would be attacked if they enter rebel zones.
But a US marine spokesman, Capt. Burrel Parmer, dismissed the allegations.
"We’re not here to engage in any type of operations against any type of forces or organizations in the Philippines," he said.
Parmer said the training could later be used by Filipino troops on a variety of threats, including terrorists.
US troops were aware of possible threats but were confident of security arrangements, he added.
Parmer said US troops taking part in Balikatan in various parts of the country would defend themselves if attacked by the NPA.
"It is common knowledge that (according to military rules of engagement) military men have the right to defend themselves," he said.
"The matter of spending liberty hours in communities outside official areas for the Balikatan exercises has been left to the discretion of the commanders," Parmer added.
In joint military exercises at Clark, US soldiers were barred from venturing into areas not in the "safe list" of US military officials.
The Balikatan exercises will be held at Clark Field in Pampanga, Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, Ternate in Cavite, Dingalan Bay in Aurora and Batanes.
It will be conducted simultaneously in three phases that includes humanitarian and civic assistance like medical, dental, engineering projects, and veterinary programs.
There will also be field training to enhance interoperability between Filipino and US troops; and combined task force seminar and command post exercise on crisis management, planning and course of action at the operational level.
"The experience that will be gained in this training would complement our security assistance program and will improve upon the existing counter-terrorism programs of the AFP," a US military statement said.
The statement said the presence of US troops in the country is only temporary and does not violate the Philippine Constitution.
"There are no plans to permanently base US forces in the Philippines, the US forces are here at the request of the Philippine government, and we continue our commitment to train, advise and assist the AFP as part of our security assistance program," the statement said.
"Environmental consideration are always part of the exercise planning and execution to ensure we go about our duties in an environmentally conscientious manner.
"Our goal is to make our operational footprint invisible on the environment and visible in its positive impact," it said.
Parmer said Balikatan will involve 46 American assault and transport aircraft.
Among the US aircraft to be used for the exercises are CH-31, CH-53, AH-1H, and CH-46 helicopters, as well as smaller C-9 and C-12 helicopters, he added.
Parmer said altogether, 2,500 US troops from the air force, navy, army and marine corps are expected to join 2,300 Filipino soldiers in the Balikatan military exercises.
Most of the US troops participating in the war games come from US military bases in Okinawa, Japan and Hawaii, but some are from various US bases in the US mainland, he added.
Parmer said the US government has allocated some $200,000 for medical-civic missions for the Balikatan exercises, mostly in 21 barangays in Puerto Princesa, and in Basco, Batanes.
He could not immediately say how much has been allocated for the conduct of the entire Balikatan exercises.
Armed Forces spokesman Lt. Gen. Rodolfo Garcia said this year’s Balikatan exercises in Palawan will be held in an imaginary "conventional security threat scenario."
The exercises are geared towards dealing with external and terrorist threats, he added.
Left-wing groups and Marxist guerrillas have labeled the military exercises as a "US infringement on Philippine sovereignty."
Gregorio "Ka Roger" Rosal, Communist Party of the Philippines spokesman, said the exercise in Aurora province, where the NPA maintain a major front, could be a cover for a clandestine surveillance or anti-insurgency operation.
"We will try to avoid trouble but we will be prepared. Anybody who would make provocative acts would be a target of tactical offensives," he said.
The leftist group, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, said the US government was using the exercises as a front to project its power in Asia, citing the deployment of American troops for activities on Palawan, which lies near the disputed Spratly islands.
The islands, believed to be oil-rich, are claimed in whole or in part by six nations — the Philippines, China, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam.
Five of the claimants have put troops on islands or reefs in the chain, which guards key shipping routes and rich fishing grounds


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