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Thursday, April 13, 2023

First Day of U.S. Military Exercises in the Philippines Marked with Global Protests

Photo by Zack Garlitos

New York, N.Y.
– Over 60 Filipinos and members of anti-war organizations rallied in Times Square on April 10 to protest the start of the largest-ever joint Philippines-U.S. military exercises dubbed Balikatan or “shoulder to shoulder.” Set to begin on April 11, the exercises will involve 12,000 U.S. troops, 5,000 Filipino troops, and 111 Australian troops, and will include live-fire in the contested West Philippine Sea, or South China Sea. This year’s annual military exercises begin two months after President Marcos Jr. agreed to grant U.S. troops access to four additional bases in the Philippines. 

Led by BAYAN-USA Northeast, a local chapter of the “New Patriotic Alliance'' of the Philippines, protestors gathered in front of the U.S. Army Recruiting Office to denounce the diversion of public funds towards repressive military and police operations instead of social services. “The buildup of U.S. military presence is the largest seen since the end of the Cold War,” said Nina Macapinlac, Secretary General of BAYAN USA. “Rather than protect the livelihoods and land of Filipinos, the U.S. military aims to encircle and intimidate China and reinforce U.S. hegemony in the Asia Pacific,” she continued.

Only two hours earlier, students in the Philippines launched a 5:00am protest at the U.S. Embassy in Manila, calling for an end to U.S. military presence in the country and assertion of Philippine national sovereignty. The peaceful protest resulted in a violent dispersal and six arrests. Two activists remain detained as of 9pm EST. 

Nina Macapinlac, BAYAN USA. Photo by Zack Garlitos 

In New York, speakers from the New York Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines (NYCHRP) and Veterans for Peace denounced the human rights violations committed and funded by the U.S. military in the Philippines and around the globe, noting the $550 million provided by the U.S. to the Philippines since 2016. 

Backlit by the recruitment center’s American flag, Dana Ysabel Dela Cruz, member of Filipino youth and student organization Anakbayan Manhattan, spoke against the military industrial complex that exploits youth across both the U.S. and the Philippines. “How many Black and brown working class youth have been recruited and processed at this very office?” they asked. “How many of our classmates, friends, relatives, neighbors have been recruited into a war machine that forces them to fight against the interests of their own people? Military recruiters lure our people in by offering to pay for our college education. But why is education so expensive in the first place?”

Ysabella Titi of the Palestinian Youth Movement drew parallels to U.S. military support for Israel. “As a distraction from its own internal contradictions, the Zionist entity [Israel] has escalated its assault on Palestinians across Palestine. [...] It does so with the full financial and political support of the U.S., who sees the Philippines and Israel as a cornerstone of its imperial reach.”

Photo by Zack Garlitos

Protestors representing Filipino youth and students, women, LBGTQIA+ people, migrants, and workers from the Northeast region called for “money and food for education, not for wars and state repression” and the junking of legislation like the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) that allow the U.S. military to commandeer Filipino resources for their own political and economic gain.

Military operations like the Balikatan exercises generate toxic waste and other forms of environmental destruction. Mitzi Jonelle of Youth Advocates for Climate Action in the Philippines drew attention to the U.S. military as the number one emitter of fossil fuels worldwide. “The U.S. military trains the Armed Forces of the Philippines in counter-terrorism. What does that counter-terrorism look like? It means the Philippines is the most dangerous country in the world for environmental defenders,” Jonelle said, referring to the scores of environmental advocates who are labeled terrorists annually by the Philippine government before being assassinated.

As the Balikatan exercises carry on through April 28, BAYAN groups across the United States will hold a series of actions calling for an end to U.S. militarization in the Philippines. “The Balikatan war games are a violation of Philippine sovereignty and a dangerous provocation of China,” reiterated Macapinlac. “We oppose U.S. military intervention in the Philippines and reject the puppetry of Bongbong Marcos to the U.S. There is no doubt this is a build up to war in the Asia Pacific… to stoke the flames of world war. There is no doubt that we, the Filipino people, will fight tooth and nail to defend our sovereignty!”


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