Friday, 28 February 2000


Exorcising the war exercise
By Gina Mission


For hours, her powerful alto held the attention of the crowd camping out at the gate to the Clark Special Economic Zone (CSEZ). The place had been reverberating with the voices of protest since two o’clock in the afternoon.

...They were still at it when the clock struck midnight. The voice of the emcee-chant leader no longer had the same rousing effect on the people around her, some of whom had fallen asleep. But it was only a lull in the night-long rally, part of a series of protest actions in the two-day People’s Caravan Against US War Games, directed against the military exercise, Balikatan 2000, being held in accordance with the Philippine-US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).

...Some time later, the crowd came to life again, and the emcee and other speakers pressed on with their urgent messages against the war games and the VFA.

..."V-F-A?!!" the chant leader began to work the crowd again, yelling the acronym letter by letter, her voice straddling between an exclamation and a question mark.

..."Junk V-F-A!" the audience shouted back.

...Taking his turn at the microphone, Noel Colina, national chair of the League of Filipino Students (LFS), declared: "Instead of promoting love and peace this February, the Estrada regime, through the Balikatan war exercise, opted to promote war and destruction. This war exercise must be exorcised by all peace-loving Filipinos.’’

...LFS was one of several organizations that joined the caravan, led by the Junk VFA Movement and Bayan. The coordinated protest actions took place on Feb. 21 and 22 in Angeles City, Manila, and Ternate in Cavite, three of several sites of the war games.

...Defense Secretary Orlando Mercado had said the exercise, the first of a series scheduled for the year, was necessary to strengthen the Armed Forces of the Philippines and enhance its capacity to protect the country from foreign aggression.

..."Whose interest will be served by these war games? Whose security will be reinforced? And who will carry the burdens accompanying such activities?" Bayan secretary general Teddy Casiņo asked.

...Balikatan will not serve Philippine interest and security, Casiņo asserted. He said the exercise and the VFA are part of the US agenda to position itself as the leading military power in the Asia-Pacific.

...The VFA is crucial to protect the immense economic interests of the United States and its partners, he said. "Sixty-five per cent of total annual US exports or $920 billion worth of products were dumped in the Asia-Pacific in 1996 alone. If we add the billions of dollars in superprofits of its companies and banks, then we see the relevance of these war games and the VFA.’’

...Nenita Reli, a poor woman from Navotas, Metro Manila, who was at the rally, saw the social costs of the visit by the American forces. "The presence of US troops participating in the Balikatan exercise would make young women vulnerable to prostitution. As a mother with teenage daughters, I don’t want that to happen," she said.

...Recalling the bitter experience of his village at the hands of American soldiers during the days of the US naval station in Subic, Jobert David, an Aeta rally participant from Zambales, expressed grave concern over the present military exercise. "Nangyari na sa aming lugar. Pinag-iinitan ng military kaming mga kabataan. Baka mapag-tripan na naman kami nito (It happened to our community. The military harassed us youths. They might do it again this time).’’

...Apart from rallies, other activities during the two-day caravan included photo exhibits, film showings, a protest concert, a torch march, and a noise barrage. For the duration of these activities, US servicemen were ordered to stay in their tents and hotel rooms inside Clark to avoid confrontation with the demonstrators.

...But as soon as the protesters left the area, US servicemen trooped back to Fields Avenue in Balibago, Angeles City’s red light and entertainment district.

...Gabriela’s Liza Maza said a curfew, liquor ban, and other restrictions imposed on the visiting forces would not spare Filipino women from the undesirable consequences of the war exercise. "Women can and will always be made available to them."

...Casino said: "The government is really out to push through with Balikatan, regardless of its social costs. We can’t change that. But as with the US bases, we’re looking at it from a long-term perspective."

...Elaborating, he said his group would continue to make people aware of the social costs and other ill effects of the war games. He hoped that such consciousness would eventually cause the scrapping of the Visiting Forces Agreement, just like what happened to the military bases.

...Casino conceded it would be a tough campaign, but he said his organization is undaunted in its resolve to rid the nation of the Visiting Forces Agreement.

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