Olongapo SubicBay BatangGapo Newscenter

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Angeles folk worry about low-flying US military planes

By Ding Cervantes, The Philippine Star

ANGELES CITY — Saying that low-flying US military aircraft have been causing "unnecessary panic, apprehension and inconvenience" among local folk, the Angeles City council has approved a resolution calling for an amendment to the Philippine-US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) to address this concern.

City councilor Jay Sangil, who authored the resolution, said they are also worried about the safety of residents amid airborne drills currently ongoing as part of the "Balance Piston" joint military exercise at the Clark special economic zone. The war games last up to Feb. 7.

The resolution cited "accidents" involving Philippine and US military aircraft, including the 1999 crash of an F-5 Freedom Fighter of the Philippine Air Force (PAF) that was taking part in the Balikatan joint military exercise.

It also cited an incident in 2000 when an F/A 18 Hornet of the US Marine Corps was forced to make an emergency landing after hitting a flock of birds immediately after taking off from the Clark airport.

"The people of Angeles City recognize the importance of our security alliance with the United States through the conduct of regular military exercises and other related activities under the VFA," the resolution stated.

But it added that city residents are now concerned about "the conduct of low-level and night-time flights" by US military aircraft over populated areas of the city during Balance Piston.

"These low-level flights by US military aircraft have caused unnecessary panic, apprehension and inconvenience among residents," it stated.

The resolution asked Philippine and US officials "to take into account this legitimate concern of the host city of the former Clark Air Base by ensuring that military aircraft avoid low-level and night-time flights over populated areas of Angeles."

Copies of the resolution were submitted to Malacañang, the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Presidential Commission on the Visiting Forces Agreement and the US embassy.

The city councilors are now studying whether they could pass an ordinance prohibiting such low-level and night-time flights over the city’s populated areas not only by military aircraft but also by commercial planes taking off from and landing at the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport at Clark.

Even residents of neighboring Mabalacat town have complained about "deafening" aircraft noise from US military aircraft.

The other day, residents of Barangay Lakandula said they were awakened by tremors and loud noise at about 12 midnight when a C-130 cargo plane of the US military flew low over their community.

In an interview with The STAR, Emil Ollado of the Air Transportation Office at Clark, said the VFA is not clear on the ATO’s authority to impose altitude and other air space limitations on US military aircraft taking part in joint military exercises in the country.

"It is not clear. Such exercises are military in nature but there seems to be lack of coordination with the Clark International Airport Corp. (CIAC) and ATO," said Ollado, who referred the queries on air space regulations to the PAF.

But Maj. Allan Ballesteros, spokesman of the PAF Special Operations Wing here, said the ATO issued the air space clearance for US military aircraft participating in the joint exercise here last December.

He said the clearance was supposed to specify altitude and other air space limitations for US military aircraft.

Sangil cited US studies showing that "the most significant health problem caused by noise pollution is hearing loss."

"The initial damage to the cochlea may be temporary, but with repeated exposure, the damage becomes permanent," he added


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