As the United States and the Philippines begin their largest ever joint military training exercises, including a live-fire exercise on a sunken ship in the South China Sea, red. media spoke speaks to Renato Reyes, the Secretary General of Bayan, the largest anti-imperialist Leftist alliance in the Philippines.
What is your take on the U.S. military exercises in the Philippines and their impact on escalating tensions with China?
We view the upcoming Balikatan military war games, or exercises, with grave concern. Since this constitutes number one, an affront to the Philippine’s sovereignty. And number two, this will drag the Philippines into conflicts that are not of our choosing, and into conflicts that only serve to promote U.S. imperialist interests.
The Balikatan War Games are happening in the context of escalating inter-imperialist rivalry between the U.S. and China; each trying to outdo the other and gain supremacy and dominance in the region. Of course, the Philippine’s national interest does not align with either of these imperialist powers, and the Philippines is being used by the United States as a springboard to be able to project its military power in the region.
We want to stand up to China, but it doesn’t mean surrendering our sovereignty to the United States or going along with the U.S. imperialist agenda in this region.
The result is that it provokes China. It creates another round of provocation, through the live fire exercises, and the amphibious landing and this year, they plan to sink a ship off the West Philippines Sea, which has not been done before. We feel that this will also lead to an escalation of tensions. So, on the basis of that, we are definitely opposed to these war games because these do not serve any of our national interests. This is bad for regional peace and stability, and only seeks to promote American imperialist interests in the region.
Could you elaborate on the scale and unique significance of the recent military exercises compared to past ones?
These are the largest U.S. military exercises in the Philippines to date, they’ll involve 12,200 American troops. There will be 111 Australian troops and observers coming from Japan. It’ll take two weeks from April 11th to April 28th, to complete the exercises, which will be held in different areas of the Philippines.
The military exercises are happening in locations that are strategic flashpoints. For example, one of the exercises will be held in the northern part of the Philippines, close to Taiwan. So, we know the purpose of the U.S. presence there is to project its military power to provoke China.
There will also be military exercises near the West Philippines Sea as a response to the Chinese presence in the South China Sea. This again aims to provoke China and worsen the situation in that region. The U.S. wants to project its military power against China in these areas where there are flashpoints.
What will be the potential consequences of the military exercise on the environment and the local population?
Well, military exercises come with a great social cost. You have American soldiers disregarding human rights. There are injuries to civilians in the course of live fire exercises and during maneuvers by visiting troops. Of course, the issues of prostitution, child abuse, and killings during so-called recreation activities. In the past we’ve had documented cases of rape and murder.
Then you have the lasting impact of these exercises on the environment. There have been cases when U.S. soldiers ran aground on a very important reef such as the Tubbataha Reef, which is a national heritage site. You have U.S. forces possibly leaving toxic waste during the exercises and dumping the toxic waste in the area leaving a lasting impact on civilian communities. Of course, the U.S. wants to use the Philippines for free, so there’s a huge social cost. In fact the United States does not pay a single cent to the Filipino people for all the hassles and troubles that they bring about in the course of these exercises because these exercises happen for free as far as the Philippine government is concerned.
The Balikatan War Games are happening in the context of escalating inter-imperialist rivalry between the U.S. and China.
We feel that these exercises are a significant burden for the Filipino people. It’s not just the monetary cost, it’s the social cost of having all these American troops in our territory for the duration of the exercises. It’s also the political cost of having the Philippines dragged into these kinds of inter-imperialist conflicts, which we are not part of or aligned with.
This is the biggest one to date and we are afraid that it’s not going to end with these kinds of exercises. Particularly as there will be U.S. bases in the Philippines under the enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.
What are the primary goals behind conducting these military exercises?
War games are preparations for war and the fact that the U.S. is holding these war games in the Philippines, in areas considered flashpoints, means that the U.S. is preparing for war in this region. Is that something that we should support? Definitely not, we are not in favor of escalating tensions between the U.S. and China. We’re not in favor of any proxy wars and we’re not in favor of an arms race between the two imperialist powers. We are for Filipino sovereignty and we are for the Philippine’s national interests. We want to stand up to China, but it doesn’t mean surrendering our sovereignty to the United States or going along with the U.S. imperialist agenda in this region.
The U.S. wants to strengthen its military alliances in the region. That’s why it’s working on joint military exercises, involving Australia and Japan. It has already strengthened its alliances with Australia and the U.K., it’s also expanding and strengthening its alliances with its junior partners, such as Japan and of course the Philippines, through the establishment of a new U.S. base on Flippin territory. Generally the US really wants to maintain its military dominance in the region, but it will be at a great expense for the American people because the U.S. economy is facing a crisis.
We should really ask the American people, is it in their interest to be spending billions of dollars to project U.S. military power in Asia? Is it worth it? What interests are being protected here, except for imperialist interests? So, we also call on the American people to reject this kind of military expansionism by the United States and object to any war provocations and war operations here in the region.
How will the tension affect revolutionary movements and working-class people in the region?
The presence of foreign troops in the Philippines has an immediate impact on the revolutionary forces or revolutionary movements, as the U.S. has used the military exercises and their prolonged presence in the Philippines to conduct counterinsurgency operations They have also advised Filipino troops, to provide U.S. made weapons and for Filipino soldiers to be used against their citizens. So the U.S. is actively involved in counterinsurgency operations. The US military has been seen as a model for Filipino troops and they have adopted the U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine and are heavily dependent on U.S. military aid.
So those are the trade-offs involved in allowing American forces to stage war games here in the Philippines. The effect on the Revolutionary Forces, due to the presence of U.S. troops, is very immediate and very direct. Of course, in the greater scheme of things, if the tensions escalate in the region, Filipinos will be among those affected because we have a very weak economy. Our economy will be destabilized. Filipinos working abroad will also experience destabilization if the conflict escalates and we have a situation that is similar to what’s happening in Europe right now. So it’s not something that we want to happen. That’s why we are taking a stand against the U.S. military intervention, as well as, Chinese incursions into our Exclusive Economic Zone.