“Imagine 6,000 American troops inside the country’s territory at the same time, operating within the lands and shores that Filipino farmers, fisherfolk and indigenous peoples source their livelihood. The exercise would surely devastate their daily work, worse, destroy their crops,” said Joseph Canlas, AMGL chair said in a press statement.
AMGL said that the Balikatan exercises are to threaten and terrorize on areas where farmers are struggling for their rights on land. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has announced that 4 of the 7 training sites are within the Central Luzon region namely, the Fort Magsaysay Military Reservation in Laur, Nueva Ecija, Basa and Clark Air Base in Pampanga, Crow Valley in Capas, Tarlac and Naval Station L. Gantioqui in Zambales.
“The 3,100 hectares in Fort Magsaysay were already under the jurisdiction of the Dept. of Agrarian Reform as it has been transferred by the Dept. of National Defense in 1991, yet, the AFP keeps on throwing American soldiers at the area with the objective to scare of farmers,” said Canlas.
Canlas added that Fort Magsaysay Military Reservation is near to the Pantabangan Dam which is being targeted to be constructed with hydroelectric power plant by the Energy Development Corp. and California Energy. The indigenous peoples’ communites around Pantabangan Lake are presently under threat of displacement and heavy militarization.
“In Zambales, farmers are against mining operations, thus, Balikatan is like a clearing operation for the mining companies. In Crow Valley in Tarlac, indigenous peoples are fighting for their ancestral domain,” Canlas added.
AMGL also said that American soldiers have been visiting Hacienda Luisita since last year. Farmworkers said that American soldiers are planning of conducting medical missions, but they believe its objective is to suppress their strengthening struggle for their rights to land. Crow Valley is just hours away from Hacienda Luisita.
The group believes that the Aquino government is using American soldiers to threaten farmers who resist landgrabbing and displacement as an imminent result of the Metro-Luzon Urban Beltway (MLUB) as promoted by the Dept. of Public Works and Highways website. MLUB is promoted under Aquino’s Public-Private Partnership Program (PPP). They added that the construction of the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEx) and the planned Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway (TPLEx) have displaced farmers and made them victims of landgrabbing by landlords, speculators and real estate developers.
“Aquino has a long-term view of repressing peasant rights on land. As a Cojuangco himself, he is anticipating the effect of the construction of superhighways on the region, thus, keeping lands from the farmers and displacing those who till for decades,” Canlas said.
The group said that under the Aquino administration, landgrabbing and displacements are taking place in different parts of the region. Peasant communities around the SCTEx and Sta. Rosa-Tarlac Road are now under threat of being wiped out to give way to the SCTEx and TPLEx interchange. Lands are also being grabbed such as by the St. Tropez Holdings Corp. in Brgy. Balingcanaway in Tarlac City, while houses at Brgy. San Roque in La Paz town have been demolished.
AMGL said that the Cojuancgo-controlled Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT) is also grabbing lands in Bayambang town, Pangasinan, covering 12 barangays that are farms and homes to about 20,000 farmers and residents. Farmers in various towns of Nueva Ecija are also being ejected from their farms such as in barangays Manggang Marikit, Bagong Barrio and Yuson in Guimba town. Moreover, in Bulacan, farmers at Brgy. Tungkong Mangga of San Jose Del Monte city are being displaced to give way to the MRT 7 project and the North Luzon East Expressway (NLEX East).
“These government projects are clear motivation of the Balikatan. Aquino himself know that farmers would totally oppose his programs, thus, he is using American soldiers in thinking it would cow us. He is really a dull on the country’s history of resistance,” Canlas said.
“This is a rallying issue for Central Luzon farmers. We would not allow American soldiers to step on our rights to our land. We are confident other sectors would actively oppose the Balikatan exercises,” he added. #