Balikatan exercise impedes fishing activity in Zambales – fisherfolk group
Manila, Philippines – The activist fisherfolk group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (PAMALAKAYA-Pilipinas) said an undeclared fishing ban in Zambales due to Balikatan exercise is in effect.
Balikatan (shoulder-to-shoulder) is an annual military exercise between the Filipino and American troops as agreed on Philippine-United States military agreements such as the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA). This year’s Balikatan which is being held in San Antonio, Zambales from May 8-18, consists of almost 5,000 Filipino troops and 3,000 American soldiers, while there are also troops from Australia, Japan, and South Korea as observers.
The fisherfolk group said Balikatan exercises, especially those in coastal areas, are always incorporated with fishing ban to provide blanket security to the American forces. The coastal-based group said the ongoing Balikatan exercise likely affects not less than 20,000 fisherfolk from San Antonio and other neighboring coastal towns in Zambales.
“We condemn this new batch of military drill that sacrifices the socio-economic rights of Filipino fishers only to please the American masters of the Philippine government. No fisherfolk will dare to sail in the militarized waters because Filipino and American soldiers are obviously mobilizing thousands of their troops to impose an intimidating presence among the fishing communities in the province,” Fernando Hicap, PAMALAKAYA Chairperson said in a statement, assailing President Rodrigo Duterte’s subservience to the United States by allowing the American troops to exploit our soil as a mere launching pad for war on aggression.
PAMALAKAYA said, like previous Balikatan exercises, this year’s military drill under the guise of “humanitarian and civil assistance” is nothing more than territorial intervention and military aggression to advance the geopolitical agenda of the United States in the Asia Pacific Region.
The progressive group challenges Balikatan delegates to conduct their military drill in Scarborough Shoal instead, which is only a hundred-kilometer nautical mile away from the province of Zambales, and to urge the Chinese government to halt their illegal occupation and reclamation activities in the West Philippine Sea.
“Why don’t the American and Filipino troops go the disputed islands in the West Philippine Sea instead and do an actual, real life combat drill with the Chinese invaders. It might actually be beneficial to the Filipino people if they shoo away Chinese personnel instead of impeding the livelihood of Filipino fisherfolk,” ended Hicap. ###