Filipinos Denounce U.S.-Philippines Balikatan Joint Military Exercises 2024

April 22, 2024, Manilla

Progressive organizations in the Philippines organized actions to oppose the start of the 39th version of the U.S.-Philippines Balikatan Joint Military Exercise which began on April 22 and will end on May 18. These are the largest war games to date, involving more than 17,000 U.S. and Philippines soldiers, almost twice as many as last year. According to the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, Balikatan (which means "shoulder-to-shoulder" in Tagalog) 2024 is undertaken under the terms of the U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defence Treaty of 1951. U.S. Indo-Pacific Command notes, "Exercise Balikatan directly supports the U.S.-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty by ensuring our forces are tactically proficient, that capabilities and modernization efforts are mutually compatible, and by strengthening military-to-military coordination." They are live war drills implementing planned invasion scenarios directed mainly at China and designed to consolidate the command structure headed by the U.S.

This year, the Australian Defence Force and French navy are also joining the war games. Eighteen other countries, including Canada, are participating as "observers."

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) a broad alliance of progressive and patriotic Filipino organizations, called the military war games, "a shameful proof of the subservient foreign policy of the administration of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. by allowing the increased presence and intervention of genocide-enabling and imperialist foreign military forces." Bayan and other organizations held a protest at Camp Aguinaldo on April 22 where the commencement of the war games was announced. Bayan pointed out that the military drill under the U.S. "is not designed to promote our national interest. Its real aim is to allow the U.S. to project and preserve its hegemony in this part of the world."

The Philippine human rights organization Karapatan also condemned Balikatan 2024, pointing out that the heavy presence of U.S. troops on the Philippines islands is a violation of the sovereignty of the Filipino people and a provocation against China which could lead to a military conflict between the two countries with people of the Philippines in the middle. Karapatan pointedly denounced the recent first-time deployment of the U.S. mid-range Typhon missile system which is capable of reaching the Chinese mainland. The missiles were introduced in the context of the Balikatan war games, Karapatan noted, further signaling the U.S. intention "to use Philippine territory as a launching pad for hostile acts against China."

Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas or Peasant Movement of the Philippines (KMP) also denounced the Balikatan war games. Danilo Ramos, chairperson of KMP, said that in locations where the Balikatan exercises will take place, farmers and fishers are restricted from carrying out their daily activity without compensation.

Kalikasan People's Network for the Environment denounced the Balikatan war games, emphasizing the severe detrimental impacts of the military drills on the natural environment. "Troop movements, vehicle manoeuvres, construction activities, and the sinking of naval ships -- all lead to habitat loss and fragmentation, endangering local wildlife. The use of heavy machinery, explosives, ammunition, and other military equipment contributes to soil and water pollution by chemical contamination," the organization stated. It added that "Massive amounts of waste are generated -- much of this toxic waste. The health of local communities is threatened during the exercises, as well as by the long-term impacts of the exercises on the environment. Noise pollution disrupts ecosystems and disturbs wildlife."

Kalikasan also underscored that the U.S. plans to use the Philippines as cannon fodder in confronting China.  "History has also shown that U.S. intervention has always led to war and tragedy -- and widespread, long-term environmental destruction, as well. These have been seen in the U.S.-led wars in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Ukraine, and Palestine," the organization said.

Bayan called on the Filipino people to resist the Balikatan war drills, oppose the U.S. provocations in the region and expel U.S. military facilities and other foreign troops in the country. For its part Karapatan called on the freedom-loving people of the Philippines and the world to "forge the broadest solidarity front against U.S. imperialist intervention and war-mongering in the South China Sea and in other areas of the world."

This article was published in
Volume 54 Number 3 - April 2024

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