SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews/16 April) – Various groups and several public officials here signed a manifesto of unity Saturday to protest the holding of another round of RP-US Balikatan military exercises scheduled from April 16 to 27 in Mindanao and Luzon.
Ronil Salmayor, a convenor of Patriyotiko Mindanao for Surigao del Norte said the latest joint military exercises show the country’s subservience to US interests, adding Balikatan has not contributed to the improvement of people’s lives.
Salmayor, who is the administrative officer of the Caraga Regional Hospital, urged Surigao residents to join other Mindanaoans in rallying against the military exercises held under the auspices of the Visiting Forces Agreement between the Philippines and the US.
The protesters in Surigao signed the anti-Balikatan manifesto two days before the military exercises, which started in Palawan today and greeted by protests across the country.
Among those expected to witness the opening ceremony were Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, US Ambassador Harry K. Thomas, Jr., Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Jessie D. Dellosa, Col. Kevin D. Clark, head of the Joint US Military Assistance Group (JUSMAG).
Balikatan-12 is being held in Palawan and other areas of the country amid tensions between the Philippines and China over a standoff at the Scarborough Shoal in the disputed Spratly Islands in the West Philippine Sea.
Philippine Navy men had tried to arrest Chinese fishermen caught poaching in the shoal. However, three Chinese vessels stopped the Philippine Navy from arresting the fishermen triggering the standoff, which only eased after the fishermen were allowed to leave with their catch.
But Malacanang has denied the exercises were meant to be a show of force against China.
The military confirmed some of the drills in Palawan will be held along the island province’s western coast, which faces the West Philippine Sea.
China has expressed displeasure at the joint military exercises.
“The major trend of the times in this region is peace and development. Military exercise does not represent the major call of the times,” reports quoted foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin as having said in Beijing.
The groups that signed the manifesto in Surigao City included the Coalition of Surigaonons for Good Governance Transparency and Accountability, Iglesia Filipina Independiente, and Promotion of Church People’s Response.
City Councilors Jose V. Begil Jr., Baltazar Abian, and Jose Expeditus Bayana, philanthropist Fernando A. Almeda Jr., and other officials also signed. (Vanessa Almeda, with reports from H. Marcos C. Mordeno/MindaNews)