Militants hit Philippines-US joint naval exercise

DAVAO CITY – Militant groups in this city oppose the ongoing nine-day joint naval exercises between the United States (US) and the Philippines in Mindanao seas.

The 18th annual Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (Carat) 2012 exercises started on July 2 in General Santos City and will be concluded on July 10.

May Ann Sapar, Gabriela-Southern Mindanao secretary general, said the presence of American troops in the naval exercises could possibly increase the number of prostituted and exploited women in the country.

"We strongly oppose the US-Philippines exercises for many reasons based in the past exercises," Sapar said, adding that thousands were victimized during a similar exercise in the 1990s.

Sapar added that rape incidents were reported where US personnel are stationed, and this could happen again.

Joel Virador, vice president of Bayan Muna-Southern Mindanao, said the staging of Carat 2012 has belied the sovereignty of the country. He said it is a mere excuse of the US forces to keep its foot in the Philippines.

"US troops are not anymore allowed in the country but they are permanently staying here using the military exercises as excuse," Virador said.

Virador also said the holding of the activity would heighten the standoff between China and the Philippines over Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal and Spratly’s Island in the West Philippine Sea.

As earlier reported, seven Navy ships joined in the exercises, three of which came from the US Navy and four from the Philippine Navy.

US troops brought with them USS Vandergrift, USNS Safeguard, and USCG Waesche. Meanwhile, the Philippine troops deployed BRP Magat Salamat, Miguel Malvar, Salvador Abcede and Teotimo Figuracion.

Carat 2012 is participated by 500 personnel from the US Navy and 400 from the Philippine Navy.

US Navy Rear Admiral Thomas Carney Jr. earlier said the naval exercise is part of an open source defense project “Coast Watch South,” promoting maritime domain awareness with the Philippine Navy through the Coast Watch Stations.

The Coast Watch Stations are equipped with highly sophisticated surveillance equipment, including radars, capable of monitoring sea, air and land spaces.

These stations are spread in the towns of Kiamba, Maitum and Glan in Sarangani; Kalamansig in Sultan Kudarat; Balut Island in Davao del Sur; and Cape San Agustin in Generoso, Davao Oriental.

Carat 2012 promotes operation in the maritime environment to help strengthen capabilities on anti-terrorism, anti-smuggling, anti-narcotics, among others.

Advisories have earlier been issued to avoid accident involving commercial vessels and fishermen while the naval exercises are ongoing.

Carat is a series of bilateral military exercises between the US Navy and the armed forces of Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. Timor Leste joins the exercise for the first time in 2012.

While the training in each phase of Carat varies based on shared goals of the host country and the US, a common theme is the development of maritime security capabilities and increasing interoperability among participants.

It also focuses on relationship building between military participants through sports and social events, and improving community relations though a community service event. (Sun.Star Davao/Sunnex)