GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/3 Jan) – American businessman John Heitz did not find it amusing to find soldiers belonging to the Army’s 73rd Infantry Battalion enjoying their New Year’s Day inside his beachfront property.
So, he asked them to leave.
The soldiers did not find Heitz unwelcome flattering.
So for a brief moment, they greeted each other with not so pleasant pleasantries on New Year’s Day.
“They were on (our) private property without our permission, using our facilities and electricity for the sound system they brought. When we arrived, I told them they had to leave,” Heitz posted in his Facebook group page.
Heitz, who is into fresh tuna trading, claimed some soldiers were already drunk when he and his Filipina wife arrived.
Not used to being given cold shoulder treatment, the soldiers apparently resented the American’s curt and direct ways and accused Heitz of being a communist and an arrogant rich guy.
Heitz happened to be a strong oppositor to the planned construction of a coal-fired power plant which is just a cross the edge of his beachfront property.
He has been claiming the 73IB was stationed in the village of Kamanga in Maasim, Sarangani to provide security to the power plant.
Heitz, a former US Peace Corps volunteer, also guides scuba divers in the marine life rich Tinoto Reef which he believes will be seriously affected by the proposed coal fired power plant.
He is a long time resident of General Santos and has been into fresh tuna trading since the mid-1980s. His wife is a Maguindanaoan Muslim. He is fluent in the Visayan dialect and still possesses a wealth of information in the Socsksargen area, including the region’s river tributaries.
Lt. Col Adolfo Espuelas, commanding officer of the 73IB, said the incident was brought to his attention and said he will personally look into the matter when he arrives from his military furlough.
He said his men had asked permission from Heitz’s caretaker to use the beachfront for their Sunday’s off, which happened to be on New Year’s Day, contrary to the American’s claim that the soldiers just crashed into his property.
“My men were packing their things and were already leaving but Heitz was apparently still fuming, which led to the confrontation,” Espuelas explained.
Espuelas said he already apologized to Heitz but will still pursue and investigation on the conduct of his men.
The 73IB has been voted several times as one of the best units of the Philippine Army and has been the recipient of numerous assistances from the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).
It acquired a sophisticated radar system which capability is classified for security reasons. The battalion is also hosting different trainings conducted by American VFA forces, which include bomb disposal, marksmanship and combat maneuvers.
The confrontasi between Heitz and the Philippine soldiers nevertheless ended peacefully when the latter packed up their things and transferred in nearby Susan Beach.
Heitz however had another word.
“They moved next to Susan Beach and squatted there,” he said. (By Edwin Espejo / MindaNews contributor)