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US cancels Balikatan War Exercise in the Philippines, So What?

by AJLPP-USA Saturday, Dec. 23, 2006 at 5:05 PM
ajlpp_socal@yahoo.com 213-241-0906 337 Glendale Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90026

The United States has canceled the joint Balikatan war games in the Philippines. US officials said the decision was reached because courts here refused to give in to its demand for the immediate transfer of rape convict Lance Corporal Daniel Smith to American custody. The Alliance for Just and Lasting Peace in the Philippines (AJLPP)-USA is not surprised with the U.S Forces Pacific Commander's decision that also stopped "all humanitarian missions and aid" to the Philippines. This form of imperial arrogance is a common reaction of a modern imperialist empire whose was not able get its demand from a lackey client nation. Only the brazen puppets will cower under this form of brinkmanship. But for the Filipino people, they will just shrug it off and say; So what?" AJLPP exclaimed.

US cancels Balikatan War Exercise in the Philippines, So What?

Manila-- The United States has canceled the joint Balikatan war games in the Philippines. US officials said the decision was reached because courts here refused to give in to its demand for the immediate transfer of rape convict Lance Corporal Daniel Smith to American custody.

The Alliance for Just and Lasting Peace in the Philippines (AJLPP)-USA is not surprised with the U.S Forces Pacific Commander's decision that also stopped "all humanitarian missions and aid" to the Philippines. This form of imperial arrogance is a common reaction of a modern imperialist empire whose was not able get its demand from a lackey client nation.

Only the brazen puppets will cower under this form of brinkmanship. But for the Filipino people, they will just shrug it off and say; So what?" AJLPP exclaimed.

News sources said US Embassy spokesman Matthew Lussenhop confirmed on Friday a New York Times report quoting Admiral William J. Fallon, commander of US forces in the Pacific.

The report said Fallon also announced a halt to aid and reconstruction programs carried out by the American military in the Philippines.

“With the current custody at the judicial system, the usual protection provided to US servicemen is in doubt,” Lussenhop told The Manila Times in a telephone interview.

“So until the government courts can ensure that the Philippines is in compliance with the VFA [Visiting Forces Agreement], it just would not be prudent to bring additional troops to for that exercise,” he added. The VFA is a treaty that governs the conduct of war games and covers arrangements for visiting troops that get into legal trouble here.

Lussenhop clarified the US was canceling only the Balikatan, which is the biggest of many joint military exercises staged here, with some 4,700 American and 3,000 Philippine troops participating.

Subjudice

No one in Malacañang would react to the announcement. As usual, the US embassu extension- the Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman, Ed Malaya, said there was no “official” notice of the scuttling of the Balikatan, scheduled for February 2007.

But a senior DFA official, who requested anonymity, said Secretary Alberto Romulo and other top Philippine diplomats met Friday with US Embassy officials in an undisclosed are in Manila to discuss the American sanction.

“Secretary Romulo is meeting with US officials to try to remedy the situation,” the official said.

Romulo, earlier asked to react to strong remarks by US Ambassador Kristie Kenney, said the issue is in the hands of the courts.

“We would be subjudice. It is a pending case now in the court,” Romulo told reporters when asked to comment on the envoy’s statements.

The DFA has signed a joint agreement with the US Embassy, asking for Smith to be returned to his country’s custody.

The US is not cutting development aid to the country, Lussenhop stressed.

“We are not putting a halt to development assistance. That has never been in question,” he said.

The New York Times quoted Fallon as saying he already had ordered the withdrawal of an aid team in the Philippines that was assessing needs of a typhoon-ravaged area and that he also had canceled a number of visits by American ships.

Fallon was also quoted as saying that smaller segments of the exercise that involve computer simulations and classroom work may be allowed to proceed if the custody dispute is resolved.

VFA provisions

Judge Benjamin Pozon of the Makati Regional Trial Court sentenced Smith on December 4 to 40 years in prison for the rape of 23-year-old Nicole. He acquitted three other US Marines.

Pozon sent Smith to the Makati City Jail, rejecting an appeal by the convict’s lawyers to be returned to US custody. Smith’s lawyers also lost last week a motion asking the Court of Appeals for a temporary restraining order on Pozon’s decision.

Earlier in the day, US Ambassador Kristie Kenney publicly expressed “disappointment” over the case.

“Washington was disappointed because it [court ruling] wasn’t consistent with the VFA,” the envoy said, referring to Makati Regional Trial Court Judge Benjamin Pozon’s decision to have Smith detained at the Makati City Jail.

The controversy revolves around the interpretation of some provisions of the VFA. The governments of the United States and the Philippines claim Paragraph 5 should apply to Smith’s case. That provision states that the US could request custody of any American soldier charged with a criminal offense until the completion of “judicial processes.”

Smith’s camp claims the phrase covers the appeals process all the way to the Supreme Court.

Pozon, in junking a submitted agreement signed by the justice department and the US Embassy, said Paragraph 5’s coverage ended with the sentencing of Smith.

The judge said it was another provision that applied after conviction, one that called for a joint US-Philippine agreement on a facility for Smith. Only the President or the Secretary of Foreign Affairs could sign for the Philippines, he added.

Last week, the CA junked Smith’s petition for a TRO. The Court also rejected his claim of grave and irreparable injury to his rights.

“The long and short of it is that a full-blown trial has been held with all the rights of the accused accorded him,” said the court’s Special 16th Division.

The CA described the sought TRO as an act of “putting the cart ahead of the horse,” and said it would be a premature judgment on the merits of Pozon’s decision.

The CA ruling means Smith will spend Christmas in jail.

As a counter move, the US Embassy emabrrased a Court of Appeals justice and asked that he be 'fingerprinted." The agrrived justice refused the action and criticized the US embassy snub. Saying " I am not dying to go the United States", he went to the media to expose such arrogant action.

Optimism

Kenney said the US’ displeasure is not due to the guilty verdict.“The verdict is an issue for the judges and the lawyers. That’s not within the range of those of us in the embassy or the other government officials,” she said.

But she insisted the VFA calls for Smith to remain in US custody “through the completion of an appeals process.”

Fallon also did not touch on Smith’s guilt or innocence.

“The issue is only one of custody. I am responsible to our people in uniform. I have to have guarantees that I can trust their safety to an international agreement,” The New York Times quoted him as saying.

The AJLPP is closely monitoring the events in the Philippines especially with the formal annoucement of the intensification of counter-insurgency operations, BANTAY-LAYA-2 ( Freedom Watch-2) by the armed forces. With the coming elections, the political crisis will develop rapidly and political violence will further escalate in the Philippines.

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