The regional farmers organization Alyansa ng mga Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luson (Farmers’ Alliance in Central Luzon) opposed the commencing Balikatan military exercises between the United States and Philippines, especially those to be conducted in the region. The farmers’ group said that the exercises would be held in Clark Airbase and Basa Airbase in Angeles City and Floridablanca, Pampanga, respectively, Subic in Zambales, Crow Valley in Camp O’ Donnel in Capas, Tarlac and Fort Magsaysay in Laur, Nueva Ecija. Amgl members joined the protest caravan led by Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) against the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and Balikatan military exercises. The caravan came from Manila that proceeded to Basa and Clark Airbase.
“The areas of Balikatan exercises are usually where farmers, fisherfolk and indigenous people get their livelihood. During these dangerous exercises they are banned from attending their crops nor fishing at the seas, thus, it affects their livelihood,” said Joseph Canlas, Amgl chairperson.
The group said that military reservations such as of Clark Airbase in Pampanga, Crow Valley in Tarlac and Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija include lands that are being cultivated by farmers and indigenous Ayta. While the bay area in Zambales near Subic and San Antonio town are usual fishing grounds to communities along the bay.
“The Balikatan exercises treat farmers and fisherfolk as mere pests as they are totally driven off their lands, their rights to livelihood are totally trampled upon. We totally condemn this recurring incident,” Canlas said.
Canlas said that Clark Airbase military reservation covers 59,600 hectares while Crow Valley covers 17,814 hectares. Moreover, Fort Magsaysay military reservation covers 35,000 hectares reaching the Pacific ocean, including the Sierra Madre mountain ranges and 12 kilometer of coastline. In Crow Valley, an Ayta community who had ancestral claim was displaced when the Dept. of National Defense (DND) rejected it. The American forces from Combat Logistics Battalion 3 recently constructed Camp Palacio in Crow Valley, equipped with fiber optics technology for communication.
In 3,100 hectares in Fort Magsaysay Military Reservation, a former administration had ruled that it should be covered by the land reform program and the DND had turned it over to the Dept. of Agrarian Reform (DAR), still the leadership of the 7th Infantry Division of the Phil. Army continues to defy its higher officials’ order and hound farmers cultivating the land. In Brgy. San Miguel, San Antonio, Zambales, previous Balikatan exercises that involved sea-to-land assault exercises banned fisherfolk from the bay area. The American forces maintain a U.S. Naval Communication Station in the area, though, it is illegal for them to establish a base.
“As these reservations were proclaimed by previous administrations, do the American and Philippine government expect the farmers cultivating the areas to simply stop attending their crops and livelihood and tolerate hunger, destruction of crops and loss of income? The American forces are now constructing their bases at different parts of the region, which is a clear violation of our national sovereignty and constitution as U.S. military bases were supposedly kicked out in 1991,” Canlas said.
Amgl said that farmers in the region, as well as the country’s citizen have no benefit from the Balikatan exercises and VFA that led to it. The group said that its objectives are to secure its base in southeast Asia to exploit untapped resources such as oil and natural gas, guard against China and North Korea and to use the country as its base to launch wars of aggression.
Aside from establishing it geo-political base in southeast Asia, Amgl said that the exercise aim to threaten the resurging farmers movement in the region. The group added that the Aquino government plans to convert major areas of Central Luzon into industrial and commercial hubs which would evidently displace many farmers. It is initiated by the implementation of Metro Luzon Urban Beltway (MLUB) and North Luzon Agri-Business Quadrangle that included the construction of North Luzon Expressway (NLEx), Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEx), Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway (TPLEx), Central Luzon Expressway (CLEx) and North Luzon East Expressway (NLEx East).
“Aside from these highway projects, president Aquino is also promoting mining that seriously damages the environment, displaces farmers and plunders our natural resources,” Canlas said.
Amgl said that the Aquino government had lined up anti-farmer and anti-people policies and programs that would undoubtedly drive the region’s people to resist and protest, thus, the former is using the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), Balikatan military exercises and its counter-insurgency program Oplan Bayanihan to thwart the looming unrest.
“President Aquino is a traitor to the people of Central Luzon and the country, he has sold the future of our children and of the next generation. The peasantry and the people of the region should join the nationwide call to junk the VFA and Balikatan,” Canlas said. #