RP-US Military Exercises In Bicol All Set To Start

RP-US Military Exercises In Bicol All Set To Start
March 23rd, 2009  
Team Infidel

Topic: RP-US Military Exercises In Bicol All Set To Start

RP-US Military Exercises In Bicol All Set To Start
Manila Times
March 23, 2009
Armed Forces assures Balikatan would only focus on civil action programs that would benefit the residents
By Jefferson Antiporda, Reporter
THE joint RP-US military exercises scheduled in the Bicol region will start 15 days earlier than the original plan to make sure that projects will be completed before the closing of the annual undertakingmilitary officials disclosed Sunday.
At the same time American troops are expected to arrive in the region by next week, days before April 1 to start the engineering aspect of the RP-US Balikatan (shoulder-to-shoulder) exercise in the Bicol region which the Armed Forces assured, would only focus on civil action programs that would benefit the residents in the area.
Col. Rodolfo Santiago, Balikatan executive agent said around 100 US servicemen would participate in the Bicol exercises that would be conducted in three provinces in the region namely Masbate, Albay and Sorsogon.
He said April 15 is the original date of the opening of the exercise however, because of the engineering projects included in the exercises, they decided to allow the early arrival of some of the troops to make sure that it would be completed before the closing of the exercise which is on April 30.
“We decided to start the engineering portion of the exercise 15 days earlier to ensure that all constructions will be completed,” Santiago explained.
One of the major projects of the joint exercises is the construction of a three-kilometer road that would connect the province of Pio-Duran in Albay to Dunsol in Sorsogon. Santiago said a total of more than five villages would benefit from the project.
A total of eight engineering projects are currently lined up for the Balikatan, including the construction of school buildings in various villages as well as other structures.
Santiago said US will be spending around P20 million for the engineering aspect alone and it does not include the medical and dental civil action programs.
“We will ensure that all engineering projects are completed by April 30. That is the reason why we will begin earlier than the medical and dental activities,” Santiago explained, but if in case for some reason the projects will not be finished on time, the Armed Forces of the Philippines engineering units will be the one that would complete it.
The medical and dental mission on the other hand will start on April 16, and it would provide local citizens in the Albay, Masbate and Sorsogon free services during the 14-day period.
As for the supposed threats coming from the New People’s Army (NPA) rebels, Santiago said, the communist movement should not sabotage the event because it is the local residents who will benefit from the projects.
The New People’s Army earlier threatened to launch offensives in the area to “mock” the upcoming RP-US Balikatan joint exercises.
But Santiago said that the troops in the area particularly the Southern Luzon Command is ready to provide protection to secure the residents as well as the medical and engineering units of the US and RP military.
“We are prepared for any offensive that will be launched by the rebels in the area, we expect civilian and children during the medical mission, which is the more reason for us to be ready to prevent possible attacks from the NPA,” he added.
The RP-US joint exercises has been existing for more than 20 years now, but several politicians have been asking for the suspension of the joint military undertaking because of Subic rape case issue involving US serviceman Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith who have remained in the custody of the US embassy despite of the having found guilty of raping a Filipina from Zamboanga.
When asked about his reaction to the call, Santiago said as long as the Visiting Forces Agreement and the Mutual Defense Treaty exists the military is mandated to conduct such exercises.

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