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War games, wrong games

/ 12:08 AM October 17, 2016

During a recent visit to Vietnam, President Duterte announced in a speech before the Filipino community that he was ending joint military exercises with US forces. He said that Phiblex 33 (Philippine Amphibious Landing Exercise 33) would be the last during his term in office, and the terminations appear to be part of a continuing effort to reconfigure Philippine foreign relations aimed at reducing dependency on the United States while strengthening partnerships with other countries in the region, particularly China.

Each year for almost two decades, Philippine and US forces have conducted joint military exercises under a program called “Balikatan,” the Tagalog term for the English “shoulder-to-shoulder.” The exercises are aimed at improving military partnership and compatibility between the forces of both nations. It is unclear who benefits most. Filipino soldiers get introduced to more modern weaponry and new developments in warfare but, quite often, these weapons and equipment are out of reach to the average Filipino GI. In any conflict, our role would mainly be to provide warm bodies.

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Phiblex 33, which started two weeks ago, is part of the Balikatan exercises aimed at improving capabilities in amphibious operations and civic assistance efforts during time of calamities.

According to Brig. Gen. John M. Jansen, commander of the US Third Marine Expeditionary Brigade, the US Marines learned jungle warfare and combat engineering from the Philippine Marines, while our Marines learned about amphibious operations from their US counterparts.

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There is no doubt that civic assistance training that can be utilized in times of calamities is commendable given the number of typhoons and other natural disasters that hit the country from time to time. On the other hand, amphibious operations are basically offensive undertakings both tactical and strategic. I do not see the Philippine Marines engaging in offensive actions of this nature unless their objectives are the artificial islands created by China in the Spratlys, which makes it even more unlikely.

As a photo opportunity, it looks great to view Marines landing at beaches and wading through the surf beside rubber boats just like in World War II battles that have been glamorized by motion pictures like “Guadalcanal Diary” and “Sands of Iwo Jima,” starring John Wayne. But from a national security standpoint, it is unlikely that our Marines will be utilized for such operations.

With the peace negotiations involving the government and National Democratic Front representatives taking place in Oslo, Norway, our main security concern remains the Abu Sayyaf problem, one that could easily metamorphose into a full-fledged Islamic State partnership in the region. Unless this problem is dealt with seriously, we run the risk of a terrorism-based ideology gaining a substantial foothold in our backyard.

In a report to Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Ricardo Visaya said that the AFP had “neutralized” 94 Abu Sayyaf men in 579 military operations covering the provinces of Basilan and Sulu since July 1. Of the 94 Abus, 56 were killed, 17 captured and 21 surrendered.

Well and good, but what about their hostages?

Somehow I get the feeling that we are only interested in the release or recovery of foreign hostages, particularly Westerners. I get the feeling that the AFP launches offensives to recover foreign captives and when release is secured, everything seems to quiet down. After the recovery of the Norwegian, who among those kidnapped in Samal Island have been released? Also, since then not much has been heard concerning AFP operations.

I believe there are from 10 to 12 remaining hostages, mostly Filipinos, in the hands of the Abu Sayyaf. What are we doing to secure their recovery? The worst kind of colonial mentality is when you prioritize foreigners over your own citizens.

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What good are war games, compatibility and interoperability of weapons and equipment (such high-sounding terms) if we cannot deal decisively with a few hundred so-called bandits

who continue to make a mockery of our laws and our law enforcement units?

Food for thought.

More than 150 years after US President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation declaring “that all persons held as slaves are, and henceforward, shall be free,” and 52 years after the US Civil Rights Act was signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson, outlawing “discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin,” African-Americans are still fighting for their rights as US citizens.

Last August, Colin Kaepernick, a black football player with the San Francisco 49ers, decided that he would not stand up when the US national anthem was being played. Asked about it, he said, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”

Kaepernick, raised by white adoptive parents in California, was concerned about social justice issues particularly the shootings of unarmed African-Americans by police authorities. He said, “There are bodies in the streets and people are getting paid leaves and getting away with murder” (Time Magazine, Oct. 3, 2016).

For his actions, he was called a “traitor” and accused of “undermining patriotism.” A police union threatened to boycott 49ers games. Donald Trump suggested that he “find another country to call home.” He has reported receiving all kinds of death threats.

After a while, he modified his protest from sitting out the anthem to kneeling on one knee. A civil rights leader in San Francisco said, “He has established a posture of saying he is down on his knees pleading for America to live up to its preachments.” Since Kaepernick’s protest action, many athletes across the country have decided to take a similar stand and show support by kneeling while the national anthem is being played.

For meaningful change to happen, at times, controversial action is required.

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