CARAT 2014: Balikatan Extension?

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The 20th Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) exercise between the Philippines and the United States started last June 26, a few months after the supposed end of the Balikatan exercises.

According to the US embassy, this year’s CARAT exercise is being held in several strategic locations in the country, including Subic Bay, San Antonio in Zambales, and Sangley Point and Ternate in Cavite.

The exercises are nothing new, as previous CARAT exercises were held in Mindanao, Palawan, Subic Bay, Cebu, and other locations.

“CARAT Philippines is part of a broader bilateral exercise series the US Navy conducts with nine partner navies in South and Southeast Asia to address shared maritime security priorities, strengthen maritime partnerships, and enhance interoperability among participating navies,” the US embassy said in a press statement.

The Philippines has participated since the series began in 1995, and CARAT exercises over the past two decades are considered to be clear examples of the long-standing and close US-Philippines navy-to-navy relationship.

The 2014 CARAT series, which started last May, is also currently being held in other Asian countries such as Malaysia, Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Singapore, and Timor-Leste.

The exercises, as claimed, are meant to fortify the capabilities of both forces in amphibious operations, special operations and enhancing information-sharing.

“This exercise we are in now, is designed to improve our inter-operability, build our relationships, so we know each other better and be able to do more complex things in support of one another, whatever the event might be,” remarks U.S. Navy Fleet Commander Stuart Musch.

The seeming focus on countries bordering China and Southeast Asia has been described by both critics and analysts as a strategic move by the United States, in response to the military expansion of China in the South China Sea.

This year’s CARAT Philippines will focus on combined operations at sea, amphibious landings, diving and salvage, and maritime patrol and reconnaissance flights.

“Sailors and Marines will exchange best practices and share information with their Philippine Armed Forces counterparts during multiple professional exchanges and seminars ashore,” the US Embassy told the public.

“Civil action projects, community service events and band concerts will facilitate interaction with the local community,” the US Embassy added.

Five warships, including a U.S. guided-missile destroyer and about 1,000 troops will take part in week-long Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) exercises, which include live-fire drills 40 miles (64 km) off Zambales.

The drills are to be held about 80 nautical miles offshore, near a patrol of Chinese coastguard ships stationed at the entrance to Scarborough Shoal, a disputed reef.

When Navy Fleet Commander Jaime Bernardino was asked what the Philippine troops would do if there was an invasion, he answered:

“How do you exactly respond? My answer there, is the exact response to any incident out there, is dictated by our national leadership. Whatever they want us to do, we will do,” he said.

The Philippine Navy said the drills were a regular annual event and has no relation to the tensions in the region, but observers and concerned protest groups are not convinced.

News reports verify that tensions have escalated in recent months, with China’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea.

China considers 90 percent of the sea its property, as it is potentially rich in oil and gas and fisheries.

The Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam and Taiwan also claim parts of the waters, and China is accusing the U.S. of making moves to provoke tension, by showing support for its regional allies, particularly Vietnam and the Philippines.

What Freedom?

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Why the Philippines is not really a free country
By Andrea Lim

In a government that mostly serves the interests of capitalists and foreign powers, this is one question we should all take the time to ponder – are we even truly free? Every June 12th, Filipinos are lulled into an even further sense of false ‘nationalism’ and ‘freedom’ when the reality of the matter is that we are still not free as a country.

Our national policies are still influenced by our former American colonizers. Our economic freedom is being sold part and parcel to China by big business taipans, and the oligarchs are keeping us under servitude to the interests of multinationals.

President Noynoy Aquino defined ‘true freedom’ as freedom from hunger, ignorance, poverty and joblessness. However, youth group Anakbayan national chairperson Vencer Crisostomo says that the number of hungry, jobless and poor Filipinos actually increased in Aquino’s first year, and more so in the succeeding ones. The number of school drop-outs also remain in large numbers.

This shows that not only is the government’s so-called declaration of independence a façade, but it also proves that the country’s political and economic policies stay-one sided in favor of foreign powers and their local puppets.

Sovereignty For Sale
Instead of calling for national sovereignty, we have a President who chooses only to bow down to foreign powers even if it is at the expense of the Filipino people.

US influences on our armed forces through policies and programs extends to our economy – the economic crisis being experienced by the Philippines is a result of the government’s neo-liberal policies pushed by the US, such as the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), the Balikatan exercises, and most recently, the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).

Meanwhile, China has already subdued the Philippines economically. Big capitalists such as Henry Sy, Lucio Tan and other foreign businessmen continue to exploit the Filipinos for cheap labor. What’s worse is that President Aquino himself offers us to them.

Aquino’s government has steered mainstream media into distracting us from relevant issues in our society. Instead of having us focus on the corruption cases involving Budget Secretary Butch Abad and other yellow cronies, we are bombarded with news of Noynoy’s new ‘love interest’ or Kris Aquino’s summer fling with Quezon City Mayor Herbert Bautista.

Cuban freedom fighter Che Guevarra says that the mere act of proclaiming independence or winning an armed victory in a revolution does not mean the freedom of a country. True freedom is achieved when the “imperialistic economic domination” over people is brought to an end.