Balikatan goes on despite emergencies in the region
The Balikatan exercise is proceeding normally despite growing unrest in the Philippines but the U.S. military is reminding personnel to avoid areas where people are massing for rallies, an Army spokeswoman said Saturday.
Philippines President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo proclaimed a state of emergency Friday after clashes broke out during activities marking the 20th anniversary of the four-day “people power” uprising, saying the nation faced a “clear threat” from treasonous forces.
At this point, the turmoil has had no effect on Balikatan operations, said Lt. Col. Jacquelin Lyons, a spokeswoman for the joint U.S. military advisory group at the U.S. Embassy in Manila.
“Things are going as planned,” she said. “The United States military is not involved in any way in the state of affairs of the Philippine government. We still have ongoing Balikatan activities that have not been affected.”
About 5,000 Marines are taking part in the annual bilateral drill, now in its 22nd year. The exercise, which began Feb. 20, is taking place on the islands of Luzon, Cebu and Sulu.
Lyons said U.S. troops are under no special instructions to stay clear of certain areas.
“We’re always encouraging everyone to be vigilant of where they are and not to get into public places and that kind of thing,” she added. “There’s no change but we’re reminding people to stay out of areas where a lot of people are massing. We don’t have any business being there. … We are neutral. This is not our country and not our issue.”
On Friday, about 300 Marines from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit were among the thousands of rescue workers and volunteers assisting with landslide-relief efforts in Leyte. But other humanitarian and civic assistance events scheduled as part of Balikatan also are under way.
Combined U.S. and Philippine medical, dental and veterinary teams are setting up clinics in Jolo, Lyons said, while engineering projects have begun to improve four schools there.
According to Balikatan’s official Web site, almost $250,000 has been allocated for those tasks.