International Delegation Finds Rampant Negligence, Disinformation, and Repression in EDCA Sites, Balikatan Exercise Grounds – BAYAN-USA

June 12, 2024

After a three-week fact finding mission across EDCA sites and military exercise grounds, the delegation demands answers from the PH government regarding violations of EDCA agreement, military exploitation, rampant disinformation, and more. 

New York, NY – On June 12th, Philippine Independence Day, the BAYAN and P1NAS Peace Mission — an international delegation of Filipino community groups, US veterans, human rights organizations, labor unions, journalists, women’s rights activists, students, and filmmakers from across the United States — shared their findings from a three-week investigation in the Philippines, including on-the-ground examinations of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) sites across the Philippines, and interviewing surrounding communities directly affected by the facilities and U.S. militarism. 

“This Independence Day, we demand that the Filipino people be free to stand up on our own two feet and determine for ourselves the course of our future, without any foreign power leading us astray. For the communities experiencing the brunt of US militarism first-hand — impoverished fisherfolk who are denied livelihood; internally displaced Indigenous peoples who want their homes, not another military base — the position is even clearer. We demand answers and accountability from the Philippine and US government on the impacts of militarism on the most marginalized. We demand answers on the real extent of US base and facility building in the country, as what is being publicized in the news doesn’t match experiences on the ground,” said Andan of BAYAN USA. 

During the three-week trip, the delegation did extensive investigations inside of an EDCA base in Cagayan Valley; at former US base locations in Central Luzon; Ilocos Norte, where the most recent Baliktan exercises took place; and Marawi City, where, according to local leaders, a military site is being built at ground zero seven years after the siege using EDCA funding.

The delegation shared key findings in the press conference:

  • Violations of EDCA Agreement. In Cagayan Valley, local community members are being reached out by the military to store items in buildings outside of the EDCA sites, a violation of the military agreement. Community members are not being communicated regarding the storage purpose, and they suspect that weapons are being stored rather than purported humanitarian aid. 
  • Military Exploitation of Communities and their Resources. In Cagayan Valley, fisherfolk communities shared that US troops paid them 400 USD to use their homemade boats for military exercises. In Ilocos Norte, communities were denied access to their sources of livelihood during Balikatan military exercises and were given insufficient aid. 
  • Close Partnerships with Private Economic Interests and the Military. In Cagayan Valley, we received reports that the U.S. is specifically eyeing areas to build EDCA sites that are near special economic zones in order to defend US economic interests. There are two EDCA sites that exist next to the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (CEZA), a special economic zone. The partnership between the military presence and economic exploitation is so strong that we noted how the Lal-Lo Airport EDCA site includes designated parking for CEZA. 
  • No Communication to Communities Affected by Military Exercises. Among the people of Santa Ana, Cagayan, there has been no explanation about the US-PH military exercises to the local communities, before or after they have happened. The people are kept in the dark as their voices and welfare are not being considered by the Philippine government. Low-flying US helicopters have passed over Palaui Island twice since November 2023 and sent the indigenous communities there into panic, fearing that war was impending and worrying about the fate of their children.
  • Disinformation and Discrepancies in Official Government Reporting. In Marawi City, community leaders testified of a military base being built using EDCA funds in ground zero of the siege, none of which are reported by the government. Those leaders also reported that a special economic zone was being considered in the site. In Ilocos Norte, some communities were not directly contacted by the government regarding planned Balikatan exercises. Community members testified of being traumatized by explosions that shook their homes. 
  • State Repression and Red-Tagging. Community members report militarized areas show high levels of red-tagging of advocates and communities, especially those who speak out on the need to improve livelihoods of communities. The recent Philippines Supreme Court ruling found that such red-tagging and vilification activities “threaten one’s right to life, liberty, or security.” 
  • Government Negligence. In Marawi City, communities affected by the siege live in deteriorating camps, where basic utilities like electricity, water, and waste systems are broken or nonexistent. Many live in poverty due to lack of job opportunities. Seven years after the siege, many evacuees have not received proper compensation or any opportunity and prospect to return to their land. Many in the camps are faced with eviction within the next year with no government plan for relocation and aid. 

The international delegation trip occurs amidst the rising tensions between the U.S. and China, where President Biden and Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. have committed to ramping up U.S. military base building in the Philippines under EDCA. This is in addition to 500 already announced military exercises the U.S. and Philippines will engage in 2024, including the large-scale annual Balikatan exercises. 

“During the Balikatan military exercises, a no sail policy was imposed for five days, with some families estimating a loss of 10,000 pesos in wages. Impacted communities were also barely notified, let alone consulted on their consent to hold Balikatan in their backyards. While missiles were being launched into the ocean, residents had to sit back as they saw their roofs shaking from the explosions. The government and corporations operating in the former Wallace Air Base in La Union have displaced entire communities of fisherfolk to build warehouses and tourist attractions, restricted access to the waters the fishers call home, and caused environmental destruction from coal and oil spills that harm the source of their livelihood,” said Glaiza of GABRIELA.

“Seven years after the Armed Forces of The Philippines leveled the entire city of Marawi and completely depopulated what was once a hub of economic and social life, the majority of displaced families have not seen a single peso returned to them. The U.S. government and its backers globally played a major role in shaping, arming, and executing the massacre of the city. U.S. troops were stationed covertly in Marawi during the siege, specifically in Kapai and Madalum in addition to their work behind the scenes, and U.S and Israeli missiles, drones, and military weapons were used by the AFP during the siege on Marawi. The Philippine government allowed for U.S military presence to proliferate in pursuit of foreign superprofits, which is why they’ve funded luxury parks on depopulated Marawi land rather than funding the livelood and return of the displaced Maranao people,” said Fouad, Palestinian Student and Community Organizer. 

“Communities surrounding the U.S. military bases have also noted the environmental harms left behind as the U.S. showed no concern on the maintenance of their bases. Sewage was directly dumped into Subic Bay without being sanitized, and there is an ongoing concern of toxic waste. Those on Subic Bay knew the U.S. had spaces to store nuclear weapons and believe the U.S. took them down but still left behind waste. This history is why community members are even more concerned about the extent of EDCA site use, particularly in storing nuclear weapons, knowing the presence of nuclear weapons escalates the threat of war,” said BB of BAYAN USA.

“The right to sovereignty necessarily includes the right to freedom of association and freedom of assembly. The U.S. and Philippine governments directly violate this principle by cooperating in projects of state terror and repression against the people who have to deal with the daily effects of land-grabbing, militarism, environmental destruction, and the devastating effects of mining on their livelihoods. The U.S. military uses local fisherfolk as pawns in their war games aimed at provoking China into full-fledged war. In one instance, the U.S. military paid a fisherman 25,000 pesos, a mere 425.50 USD, to use his handmade and humble fishing boat for their Balikatan war games where they dropped parachuters from fighter jets. The fisherfolk, workers, and other residents don’t know what’s being stored in the Lal-lo Airport EDCA site and what danger such weapons or materials might pose. This is a direct violation of the Filipino people’s rights to sovereignty,” said Alex of Half the Sky.

Members and allies of BAYAN USA plan to continue campaigning against increasing U.S. militarism in the Philippines at the Cancel Rim of the Pacific Games (RIMPAC) people’s summit and mobilization in San Diego (June 29-30); Resist NATO summit and mobilization in Washington DC (July 6-7); protest actions at the Republican and Democratic National Conventions this summer; within the halls of Congress against the Philippines Enhanced Resilience Act (PERA) and in favor of the Philippine Human Rights Act; and in a People’s State of the Nation Address to counter that of President Marcos this July. ###

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