Thursday, April 26, 2012

Balikatan traces roots to World War II

PAYING TRIBUTE. Philippine and US troops lay a wreath to honor allied soldiers who died in a concentration camp in Cabanatuan City during the Japanese Occupation, as part of activities under Balikatan 2012. Photo by David SantosPAYING TRIBUTE. Philippine and US troops lay a wreath to honor allied soldiers who died in a concentration camp in Cabanatuan City during the Japanese Occupation, as part of activities under Balikatan 2012. Photo by David Santos

NUEVA ECIJA, Philippines – Even before the concept of a joint PH-US military exercise was formalized almost 3 decades ago, the armed forces of both nations have had the bitter-sweet experiences of fighting common enemies side by side: during the past 2 world wars.

On Tuesday, April 24, Filipino and American troops participating in the Balikatan 2012 took time to pay tribute to World War II allied soldiers who died in a former Japanese concentration camp that had been turned into a memorial in Cabanatuan City.

“This place symbolizes the sacrifice our two nations paid 67 years ago during the war. It symbolizes the service of the soldiers that were interred here, many of them who paid the ultimate sacrifice and lost their lives,” said Maj Gen Roger Matthews, deputy commanding general of the US Army Pacific Command.

The Pangatian Shrine, located 8 kilometers east of Cabanatuan City, was the site of a daring raid by the American liberation troops aided by Filipino guerrillas in January 1945. The offensive was intended to free hundreds of allied prisoners of war. It was previously a military training camp until it was converted into barracks for war prisoners during the Japanese occupation.

Legacy of freedom

Brig Gen Alan Luga, commander of the Philippine Army's 7th Infantry Division said that the Balikatan Exercises trace their roots to the “long-standing relationship” between the armed forces of the Philippines and the US, and which has continued “all the way up to this present time, even peace time.”

Both Matthews and Lugar led a wreath-laying ceremony to honor both American and Filipino war prisoners who had offered their lives for democracy and freedom.

“When you were here 67 years ago, the men who were prisoners here were part of a team, and they survived and some died because of that team. And that legacy carries on today with what we are doing with Balikatan,” Matthews told reporters after the ceremony.

Not against China

Both officers reiterated that the holding of the field training exercises in Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija was not aimed at China which has made a threatening presence in the disputed Scarborough Shoal. The exercises are part of the simultaneous activities being conducted for the 11-day Balikatan 2012.

Luga however said the Balikatan Exercises are primarily intended to test the interoperability of both armed forces in terms of their “capabilities, equipment and weapons.”

Asked whether Balikatan 2012 can also be seen as a preparatory defensive move for possible foreign incursions in the country's shores, Luga replied, “If it happens in the future that there will be (external) aggressions, that is the main purpose of the exercise – that our armed forces will be interoperable.”

Sensing that Luga's remark could imply a partnership against China, Matthews was quick to add, “We work the interoperability together so we build a strong bond. It's not about a future conflict. It's having the strength as a two partner nations.”

“Balikatan 2012 was planned a year ago, when the Scarborough incident did not happen yet,” Lt Col Eric Parayno, one of the training officers of the Philippine contingent in the joint war games, pointed out.

Regional threats

But a senior Philippine Army officer who refused to be named since he is not authorized to speak to the media said, it is likely that recommendations can be made so that future Balikatan Exercises may deal with handling regional security threats, “not just necessarily emanating from China.”

“If you recall, the Balikatan Exercises were brought to Mindanao in 2002 purposely to train, assist and advice Filipino troops to fight home-grown terrorists with international links like the Al-Qaeda,” the officer told Rappler.

“Depending on the talks between the 2 country's policy makers, it is possible that future war games will eventually have to tackle the issue of regional security threats as shown in the recent dispute (over Scarborough).”

The Philippines said Monday, April 23, it would officially take its concerns over an increasingly tense territorial dispute with China to the US, its key military ally, during the so-called "2+2" talks by the end of April in Washington.

Asked if the military would recommend during the talks that the war games include dealing with regional security threats, the Philippine contingent spokesman for Balikatan 2012 said, “we believe there will be not much changes except that more non-combat aspects (of the joint exercise) will be given focus, in view of the success of this year's Balikatan.”

 David Y. Santos | Rappler.Com | April 26, 2012 | Article Link

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