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From coast to coast, Filipino-Americans mark start of US-PH military exercises with protest

New York City & San Francisco — Activists from coast to coast gathered in New York City and San Francisco to protest the beginning of the Balikatan (“shoulder-to-shoulder”) military exercises in the Philippines. With 12,000 U.S. troops participating in the war games, the 2023 Balikatan Exercise is the largest to date, almost doubling in size since last year. 

“The Balikatan war games are double-trouble: a violation of Philippine sovereignty and a dangerous provocation of China,” said Pyxie Castillo  of GABRIELA USA. For the first time in the history of the Balikatan, troops will conduct “live fire exercises” at sea, involving the sinking of a ship in the South China Sea. Coupled with the February 2023 announcement of four new U.S. military facilities in the country — three of which are located in provinces facing Taiwan, and the other near hotly contested sites in the South China Sea — activists warn that rising U.S. militarism in the country will further drag the Philippines into a conflict between two superpowers. Under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), these facilities would allow for the prepositioning of U.S. weapons and warships. 

Meanwhile, protesters in front of the U.S. Military Recruiting Station in Times Square highlighted the historical violence brought about by U.S. presence on Philippine soil. “We must debunk the myth that U.S. basing benefitted the Filipino people,” said Nina Macapinlac of BAYAN USA. “Environmental destruction and violence against women and children has come hand-in-hand with the U.S. military.” Activists held signs reading “Junk the Visiting Forces Agreement,” under whose provisions U.S. marine Joseph Pemberton was shielded by the U.S. government after his transphobic murder of Jennifer Laude in 2014. 

“Between the 20th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the 124th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of the Philippines, let us learn our lesson that the U.S. has always put its own interests ahead of the people in the countries in which it intervenes. We want an independent foreign policy, not Marcos’ subservience to foreign powers,” concluded Castillo as the Presidio loomed in the background. The Presidio served as the U.S.’ main camp, training ground, and launching pad for the Philippine-American War, which left between 200,000 and 1,000,000 Filipinos dead by its close. ###