Environment groups on PHIBLEX war exercises in Palawan: ‘endangering the critical ecosystem in the our last frontier’

September 29, 2014

By Kalikasan PNE
USS Germantown: one of the two U.S. Navy vessels taking part in the annual PHIBLEX exercises.

USS Germantown: one of the two U.S. Navy vessels taking part in the annual PHIBLEX exercises. Image from U.S. Embassy in Manila.

As two war ships from the United States Navy arrive to participate in the Amphibious Landing Exercise (PHIBLEX) between US and PH troops today, the environment group Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) warned today that this is only the beginning of heightened risks presented by intensifying US militarization to critical ecosystems across the Philippines.

“The PHIBLEX and other war games under the US-PH Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) are presenting heightened risks to our environment, as they are being situated in important ecosystems such as in the last frontier of Palawan. In an alarmingly short period of time, our fears of increasing military hazards to our people and environment through bilateral military treaties with the US are becoming realized,” said Clemente Bautista, national coordinator of Kalikasan PNE.

This year’s PHIBLEX involves boat raid exercises at Arrecife Island in Sofronio Espanola town, Palawan; Live-fire and combined live-fire exercises at Crow Valley in Capas town, Tarlac; and a mechanized assault exercise at the Naval Education Training Center in Zambales.

Earlier this year, the US-PH Balikatan war games were held across the Philippines, including table-top exercises in Palawan and Zambales that “indicated strategic planning for long-term military operations in these provinces that are host to important environments,” Bautista noted.

“A project or military activity that poses potential significant environmental disturbances should be banned in environmental critical areas in our country. A large-scale military activity involving 4,000 troops and two US warships in Palawan is most especially not an exception,” explained Bautista.

“Palawan has already been subjected to a lot of environmentally destructive projects. The town of Sofronio Espanola is beset with destructive large-scale mining operations and encroaching palm-oil plantations affecting its marine and terrestrial ecosystems. The impending military exercises, this time in the town’s Arrecife Island, now poses additional significant threats to their marine ecosystems that are part of the globally strategic Sulu-Sulawesi Ecoregion,” said Bautista.

According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the Sulu-Sulawesi Ecoregion is known as a world center of marine biodiversity featuring abundant coral reefs, seagrass beds, and mangrove forests. Its marine biodiversity include more than 400 species of corals, 650 species of reef fishes, and five (5) of the world’s seven (7) species of marine turtles, among others.

There are also marine preserved areas in Subic Bay in Zambales, such as Triboa Bay, where the Triboa Bay Mangrove Park is found, and Ilanin Bay, where the Ilanin Forest Marine Reserve is located.

“These are just the latest of a growing number of concrete evidences that the increasing military interventions of the US are a threat not only to our sovereignty and security, but especially to our environment. The Aquino government clearly erred when it allowed the rejection of the ‘Writ of Kalikasan’ filed against the VFA. We expect more adverse environmental impacts especially with the advent of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA),” said Bautista.

The EDCA was recently railroaded by the US and PH governments to allow de facto military basing by US troops on Philippine soil.

“We reiterate our calls to repeal the VFA and junk the EDCA, and to impose a moratorium on all US-PH military activity until these onerous policies are removed, concrete environmental guidelines covering all kinds of military operations are put in place, and independent foreign policies especially on security and the economy are implemented,” ended Bautista.###