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RP-US war games on in Mindanao

Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto G. Romulo officially opened yesterday this year’s joint RP-US Balikatan (shoulder-to-shoulder) military exercises at the Armed Forces Commissioned Officers’ Country Club in Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City.

http://www.mb.com.ph/MTNN20080219117305.html

By CHARISSA M. LUCI

Around 6,000 American troops are involved in this year’s Balikatan, the US Embassy said. Thousands of Filipino soldiers are also participating.

"Upon the invitation of the Philippine government, around 6,000 US service members will participate for the two weeks of Balikatan, many in transportation or logistical support roles," US Embassy spokeswoman Rebecca Thompson said.

"Also, they will at all times work side-by-side with AFP," she added.

Balikatan 2008 from Feb. 18-March 2 is being held in Central and Western Mindanao, Sulu, and Palawan.

Among those who attended the opening ceremonies were US Ambassador to the Philippines Kristie A. Kenney, Defense Secretary Gilberto C. Teodoro Jr., Armed Forces Chief of Staff Hermogenes E. Esperon Jr., Brig. Gen. Nestor R. Sadiarin, Philippine co-exercise director of Balikatan 2008, and US coexercise director of Balikatan 2008 Brig. Gen. John Y. H. Ma.

Meanwhile, House Deputy Minority Leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Satur C. Ocampo scoffed at the continued presence of US troops in the country.

"In a span of only seven years since 2002, Balikatan 2008 is the 24th in a series of joint military exercises held in the country. These war games, many of them held in actual combat areas in Mindanao, were launched under the auspices of the onerous and one-sided Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) and the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the two countries," Ocampo said.

He said since the launching of the Balikatan, many incidents of human rights violations were documented.

"The US is circumventing the country’s Constitutional ban on foreign troops. This trampling upon our sovereignty by the US has been made possible with the subservient consent of the Arroyo administration," Ocampo said.

Ocampo has been campaigning for the departure of US troops from the Philippines, and the scrapping of the VFA between the Philippines and US.

Bayan Muna has sought the abrogation of the VFA through House Resolution 458.

Bayan Muna, Anakpawis, and Gabriela Women’s Party are also expected to file a resolution seeking the end of the MDT.