Americans to assist Filipino troops who locals complain disrupt their lives and lands
ILOILO CITY, Philippines — Filipino and American troops will hold exercises for 25 days starting Monday inside a military reservation in Capiz that is being claimed by an indigenous people’s group as part of its ancestral domain.
“Balance Piston 09-1” will be held on January 26 to February 20 at the Camp Macario B. Peralta Jr. in Jamindan town, according to a press statement issued on Friday by the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division.
The exercises will involve 141 personnel of the division and 31 US soldiers, mostly trainers, acting division spokesman Captain Renante Besa told the Philippine Daily Inquirer (parent company of INQUIRER.net) in a telephone interview Friday.
The exercises to be held within the training area of the division headquarters will involve 11 training activities, including civic-military programs in communities near the military camp.
Besa said the military exercises will provide the soldiers an opportunity to experience and acquire knowledge and skills in modern military technology and weaponry.
The statement said the exercises will be the second to be conducted in the Visayas since 1995.
But the exercises drew condemnation from militant party-list groups and organizations.
“It is ill-advised, dangerous and condemnable,” said Bayan Muna Representative Satur Ocampo in a telephone interview on Friday.
Ocampo noted that the exercises come just a little over a month since the House committee on national cultural communities held a hearing in Roxas City during which it heard the clamor of Tumandok tribesmen for repeal of a presidential proclamation declaring the area where the military camp is located a military reservation.
The land, considered the country’s biggest military camp next to Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, covers 16 of the 22 upland villages of Tapaz town and seven villages of Jamindan.
“The communities of Tumandok people have repeatedly complained of abuses of soldiers and disruption of their livelihood because of military trainings and operations. And now they want to bring in American troops?” Ocampo said.
During the hearing conducted in December last year, the representatives of the Tumandok complained that the presence of the military reservation has disrupted their lives, including their hunting, farming and cultural practices because the military suspects them of supporting the New People’s Army.
Military officials denied the allegations.
Major General Nestor Ochoa, 3rd Infantry Division commander, said in an interview that the allegations dated back to the Martial Law days, adding that they have not received any formal complaints in recent years.
Ocampo also noted that the exercises could be a prelude to the “direct participation” of US troops in counterinsurgency operations on Panay Island and could result in the escalation of the armed conflict there.
He cited the earlier statement issued by communist rebels that they would attack US troops in “rebel areas.”
Besa said they have informed and consulted the officials and residents of the three barangay (villages) of Jaena Norte, Agluluwang and Jaena Sur and met with the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, Philippine National Police, Commission on Human Rights and local government officials to ensure the safety of the participants and residents.