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Marya Salamat, for Bulatlat, reports on the ongoing joint US-AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) Balikatan 2013 military exercises:
By now it is an inescapable fact that a large US-led military exercise is ongoing in the Philippines. For about two weeks until April 17, the country plays host to the 29th and largest US-led military exercises here. The US Embassy in Manila said the exercise will “enhance Philippine-US military interoperability and build military-to-military relations.” More than 8,000 Filipino and American military personnel are participating in drills being held in various locations throughout Luzon. US jet fighters are even slated to join the exercises, a rarity in previous joint military exercises in the country.
“They want to be invited back,” Roland Simbulan, geopolitics expert and professor at University of the Philippines, said about Balikatan and US military basing here. He said that since the US announced its Asian pivot, it is concentrating in the region. Last year, an Asia Times correspondent estimated that the US would include “probably another base in the Philippines in the short term, inciting animosity between the Philippines and Vietnam and China.”
The US already has one unofficial military base in Southern Philippines, plus access to former bases in Clark, Pampanga; Subic, Zambales, and other ports and airports of the Philippines. It has an unofficial base in Australia, where it deployed 2,500 US troops, and reports said it has been increasing deployment or bases or ships in South Korea and Japan.
In the first place, why is there a need for US and Philippine forces to “enhance interoperability, and build military-to-military relations”?
From releases of US and Philippine governments, the simplest explanation appears that as allies or treaty partners, “interoperability” will make it easier, or seamless, for troops of the two nations to work or mesh together or cooperate in missions, gathering and sharing of intelligence, etc. This implies that the US and Philippine armed forces are expected to operate like one, even if the Philippines is supposedly a sovereign and independent state. This apparent subordination of Philippine troops and territory to US government’s armed forces is one of the things that irked Filipino progressive groups.
In a rally in front of Camp Aguinaldo hours before Balikatan’s formal opening on April 5, they reminded the public that these US troops now doing war exercises and other vaguely defined operations in the Philippines had in fact killed nearly a fifth of the Philippine population in early 1900s, when it engaged the nascent Philippine Republic in a war.
For over a century Filipinos have continued to fight and die for Philippine independence, succeeding in 1940s but still remaining under the US government and US military by various economic and military treaties (from parity rights to military basing rights). After decades of campaigning, Filipinos finally shut down the US military bases in 1990s. But now, especially after the 2011 declarations of US pivot to Asia, they are back for increased “routine” dockings, landings, refueling, rest and recreation and military exercises such as Balikatan.
This partnership demonstrates the Philippines’ commitment to ‘economic reform’ to foster a more conducive investment environment. It has a joint steering committee composed of representatives from the US and Philippines, meeting every six months. It is essentially, a mechanism to shape Philippine economic policies to conform to the interests and needs of the US economy.
The Aquino is in need of a lot of funds, as the Philippines is frantically trying to boost the capabilities of its backward armed forces. “Though Southeast Asians don’t like to hear it, there is an arms race going on in the region,” said Inkster, now head of trans-national threats and political risk at London’s International Institute for Strategic Studies.
“In a way military exercises are a big trade show where technics and weapons are demonstrated,” Smbulan said.
In the US at the beginning of Obama’s government, the US was supplying 20 percent of the developing world’s arms purchases. Before 2012 was over, this has jumped to 79 percent. The Obama Administration has increased the US industry’s arms sales to the Third World from a level of $9 billion per year during the 2004-2007 Bush years to $56 billion in the pre-election year of 2011.
Now that the Aquino government and the military had passed the Modernization Law, which also allows requests to exempt some contracts from public bidding, the country has gained billions of funds for arms acquisition.