We are against the holding of Balikatan exercises in Carmen and other conflict-affected areas in Mindanao.The Mindanao Peoples Caucus is concerned over reports that the RP-US Balikatan training exercises will be held in Carmen, Cotabato within the next few months. Our questions are: Why in Carmen? How will this affect the peace negotiation and ceasefire agreement with the MILF fighters?
We are against the holding of Balikatan exercises in Carmen and other conflict-affected areas in Mindanao.
The Mindanao Peoples Caucus is concerned over reports that the RP-US Balikatan training exercises will be held in Carmen, Cotabato within the next few months. Our questions are: Why in Carmen? How will this affect the peace negotiation and ceasefire agreement with the MILF fighters?
For over three years now, MPC has been initiating a series of peace dialogues among the Bangsamoro, settlers and indigenous peoples’ communities in Carmen to promote healing and reconciliation among the tri-peoples whose relationship had been torn by repeated wars and communal violence. The evacuees who were displaced in the all out war in 2000 and the Buliok war in 2003 have just returned home to rebuild their communities. International humanitarian agencies are not even half-way in their rehabilitation program for the war-affected communities. The actors in conflict including the ceasefire committee have been working very hard to maintain the ceasefire on the ground. Malaysia is poised to deploy the ceasefire international monitoring team. With all these positive developments emerging, we cannot allow this joint military exercise between the government and US troops in Carmen to disturb our peacebuilding and rehabilitation efforts on the ground.
We fear that the presence of the US troops in Carmen will exacerbate the situation of unpeace in Carmen. It will expose the US troops in too close contact with various armed groups including MILF troops thus risking the community to unnecessary armed engagement. We cannot afford any accident that will bring us back to war again.
Carmen is strategically located in Central Mindanao that any conflict that will occur can easily spread to Pikit, Buliok, Lanao and Maguindanao areas.
We appeal to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to immediately order the transfer of the venue of Balikatan in other locations that cannot possibly affect the outcome of the peace negotiation between government and MILF. The settlement of the conflict in Mindanao is one of her priority agenda of her new administration and we fully support this agenda.
We also appeal to the US government through the United States Institute for Peace (USIP) to reconsider its plan to hold the Balikatan exercise in Carmen. Indeed the US has a big role to play in brokering peace with the MILF and this huge task should prevail over the military objective served by the Balikatan exercise.
Carmen is a vulnerable area. The division and fighting among the people is very intense. We should help calm the situation by allowing spaces for dialogue, rehabilitation and peacebuilding to flourish. Let us give the Bangsamoro, settlers and indigenous peoples in Carmen a chance to rebuild their lives. Let us not bring Balikatan to Carmen.