**Please forward widely**
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 15, 2009
Reference: Rhonda Ramiro, Secretary General, email@example.com
On Tax Day: Cancel the $400 Million Payment of U.S. Tax Dollars for Human Rights Violations
Filipino Alliance in the U.S. Calls for End to Costly Balikatan War Exercises in the Philippines
Today, 138 million people in the U.S. will file their income taxes and pay a third or more of their income to the U.S. government. Today, 8,000 miles away in the Philippines, the U.S. will launch military exercises and begin its spending spree of $400 million taxpayer dollars over the next 10 years to pay for military war games, training, and materiel that fuel violence, rape, killings, abductions, and other human rights violations against innocent civilians.
BAYAN-USA condemns the continuation of the joint military exercises between Philippine and U.S. troops in the Bicol region of the Philippines, which begins today and runs through April 28. The resumption of the so-called Balikatan (Shoulder-to-Shoulder) exercises clearly indicates that President Barack Obama has not fundamentally revised the foreign policy of his predecessor. The Balikatan exercises show that the U.S. continues to use its military power to enhance its geopolitical interests in the world, at the cost of innocent lives in countries like the Philippines and hundreds of millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars that are desperately needed for education, health care, affordable housing, and other domestic services.
Like an ATM machine for the Philippine military, the Balikatan exercises are most enthusiastically supported by the puppet government of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, which receives $30 million annually in military grants from the U.S. The funds are used by Arroyo to bribe military generals in exchange for their support for her unpopular government. Arroyo has also used the funds to finance a campaign to permanently silence dissent. Numerous studies by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the United Nations, the Philippine human rights organization KARAPATAN have incriminated the Armed Forces of the Philippines as the perpetrator of more than 900 killings and 1,000 cases of torture of activists, human rights workers, trade unionists, and other outspoken critics of the Arroyo regime.
The U.S. and Philippine authorities insult the people when they insist that the exercises will only involve humanitarian missions in the impoverished provinces of Bicol. More than 6,000 U.S. troops and 2,500 Filipino soldiers will participate in the joint war games which will be conducted in the provinces of Albay, Sorsogon, and Masbate. Nuclear-powered U.S. warships with F-16 fighter jets are expected to dock in the waters of Bicol region.
The media frenzy surrounding the medical missions and civic projects of the US military personnel obscures the fact that U.S. soldiers are directly involved in combat operations in the Philippines. If conducting humanitarian missions is the true objective of the U.S. military, why did they send an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle in the Bicol region? A Predator-type drone (read: spy plane) crash landed in the towns of Esperanza and Pio V. Corpuz in Masbate last January. If the U.S. military only wanted to build roads, schools and water systems in Albay, why did a U.S. naval officer visit hospitals in the province in January and ask health care personnel if they had specialized orthopedic facilities that are typically needed to treat injuries of military personnel?
Contrary to the media spin doctors of Arroyo’s administration, the presence of U.S. troops in the Bicol region does nothing to help the local population. In fact, the arrival of the foreign troops has exacerbated the social and economic ills in the region. Earlier this month, a Philippine Senator exposed that two batches of 8 to 10 women were being given nightly to “sexually service” U.S. soldiers who were stationed in Legazpi City. The livelihood of thousands of fisherfolks in the towns of Malinao, Malilipot, Bacacay and Manito in the province of Albay was destroyed when a fishing ban was enacted by the government for six months in the coastal villages where U.S. troops are expected to visit.
Moreover, to protect their very important armed guests from rebel attacks, the 901st Infantry Brigade of the Armed Forces of the Philippines has conducted “clearing operations” in several remote villages in Bicol. These have displaced hundreds of peasant villagers. In Ligao City an infant girl was killed and six other children were injured after the military fired indiscriminate gunshots in Barangay Balanac. How many more children and other innocent civilians will be killed and harmed in order to secure the safety of visiting U.S. soldiers?
Fact-finding investigations have established that U.S. troops participated in actual combat operations in previous Balikatan war games in Mindanao. This year’s Balikatan in the Bicol region will involve U.S. soldiers in the Philippine military’s anti-insurgency campaign. U.S. troops are expected to join Filipino soldiers in terrorizing local inhabitants who are accused of sympathizing with communist rebels. U.S. intervention does not address the root causes of the conflict and will worsen the human rights situation in the region.
The Balikatan does not serve the interests of the American and Filipino people. It is endorsed by power-obsessed politicians and human rights violators in the Philippines who represent the exploitative ruling class; and by an imperialist power which intends to strengthen its hegemony in the world.
Today we demand that the U.S. government end its military presence and intervention in the Philippines. We demand that tax dollars not be spent on military aid for the Philippines. We demand the cancellation of the commitment made by the U.S. government to give $400 million to the Philippine military over a ten-year period. This large amount of money should be used to improve the social welfare of ordinary working people. It should not be allotted to aid repressive governments like the Arroyo regime.
Today we demand the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). This onerous treaty legitimizes the presence of U.S. troops in the Philippines and paves the way for Balikatan exercises to continue indefinitely. This violates the national sovereignty of the Philippines. The VFA provides legal protection for U.S. soldiers who commit crimes while on duty in the Philippines. The VFA gives the U.S. military the right to occupy any part of the Philippines over an indefinite period of time.
Today we honor the Filipino people who have steadfastly challenged and resisted U.S. imperialism in the Philippines. We add our voices to the efforts of organizations throughout the Philippines and worldwide which oppose the presence of U.S. troops in Bicol and other parts of the country.
Stop Balikatan! Withdraw U.S. troops now!
No to U.S. military intervention in the Philippines!
No U.S. tax dollars for military aid to the Philippines!
Down with Imperialism!
One of two overseas chapters of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, or BAYAN Philippines, BAYAN-USA is an alliance of 14 progressive Filipino organizations in the U.S. representing women, youth, students, scholars and working people. BAYAN-USA launched a petition site calling for the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement that can be accessed at http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/JunkVFAnow/. The said petition is addressed to US President Barack Obama and will be presented to him this year.