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Ecumenical News International
Daily News Service
21 February 2000


Philippine churches condemn Manila's war games with US military
ENI-00-0058

By Sophie Lizares-Bodegon
Manila, 21 February (ENI)--The National Council of Churches in
the Philippines (NCCP) has denounced in the "strongest possible
terms" joint military exercises, which begin today, between the
United States and Philippine Armed Forces.

The war games, the subject of major protest rallies over the
past few days, are the most extensive organised jointly by Manila
and Washinton in the past five years.

In a statement signed by the NCCP's chairman, Bishop Tomas A.
Millamena, of the Philippine Independent Church, and general
secretary, Sharon Rose Joy Ruiz-Duremdes, of Convention of
Philippine Baptist Churches, the council said that the country
had "absolutely nothing to gain" from "this instrument of
exploitation".

>From 21 February until 28 February, 5000 Filipino and US
military personnel are holding simultaneous air, ground and sea
cross-training exercises at Clark Field and at Subic, formerly
the two biggest US bases outside the US mainland, as well as in
the provinces of Nueva Ecija, Cavite and Palawan.

Named Balikatan (Joint Effort) 2000, the military exercises are
being undertaken as part of the controversial RP-US Visiting
Forces Agreement (VFA) signed last year.

The exercises involve naval warfare, aerial combat scenarios,
ground-force manoeuvres and jungle warfare.

Participating in the exercises are the US Green Berets, the US
Navy and the Philippine Army's Special forces. Fort McHenry, a
command ship from the US base at Okinawa, in Japan, is expected
to arrive with 1500 troops for exercises in the Manila Bay area.

The national VFA Commission and the local governments in the
affected areas have reportedly set up teams to monitor
compliance. Agreements such as these have been criticised in
Japan where US soldiers at Okinawa have been accused of rape.

"It is the height of Christian irresponsibility" if the churches
remain silent about the Balikatan, the NCCP statement said,
adding that the games "create a culture of dependence on foreign
might, weaponry and strategies" and enhanced the Philippine
military's capacity to terrorise people during political
upheavals.

"Human rights violations have become almost a natural part of
the people's lives," the statement said.

The NCCP accused the Philippine military authorities of human
rights violations in areas declared "no-man's lands" for the war
games.

The statement said the preparations for the military exercises
were having disastrous effects on indigenous Aeta communities in
the provinces of Pampanga, Bataan, and Zambales, near the Clark
and Subic bases; on farmers from the towns Porac and
Floridablanca, also in Pamganga province, who had been forcibly
evacuated, their houses and crops destroyed, their livestock
killed; on two farmers who had been reported missing in Cavite
province; and in Palawan, where it was claimed that two civilians
had been killed.

Nearly 300 night clubs along Field Avenue in Angeles City, where
Clark Field is located, have been cleaned up to provide "rest and
recreation" facilities to the visiting soldiers. The Department
of Health has released "pink cards" to entertainers, giving them
a bill of health so they can start "working" at Clark.

The NCCP warned that the area would see a rise in drug use,
prostitution and sexually-transmitted diseases.

The firing of live ammunition and the dumping of toxic waste
would also "despoil God's handiwork".

The NCCP repeated its promise to protect, defend and promote
peace and people's welfare.

The VFA ratification by the Philippine Senate on 27 May last
year was seen by critics as a setback for the independence of the
Philippines, a former US colony that rejected the renewal of a
military bases agreement in 1991. The Senate vote on the VFA gave
Washington jurisdiction over US soldiers who commit offences
while on duty.

The Catholic Church, the biggest church here, has long opposed
the VFA, but has not issued an official statement on this week's
war games.

The NCCP has nine church members, seven of them Protestant and
two with largely Catholic traditions. The Roman Catholic Church,
however, is not a member of NCCP.