All systems go for ‘09 Balikatan in Bikol

LEGAZPI CITY--Its all systems go for the RP-US Balikatan exercise beginning April 1, a ranking Philippine Army official said on Thursday.

Army Col. Ariel Bernardo, commander of the 901st Army Brigade here, said that only humanitarian mission and civil engineering would be held in the selected barangays in the provinces of Albay, Sorsogon and Masbate.

“Absolutely there will be no military exercises, it will be a pure medical mission, coupled with engineering services,” Bernardo assured a multi-sectoral forum on ‘09 Balikatan exercises held at the Navy headquarters here.

Commodore Joel Babas of the Philippine Navy urged all the sectors concerned to provide support to the undertaking, amid some apprehensions and opposition from militant and religious groups.

“Let us look at the benefits that the residents will get,” he said during the forum.

Areas covered by the Balikatan exercises include the towns of Pioduran, Guinobatan and Ligao City in Albay as well as Masbate.

The Armed Forces said that the US military would spend about P20 million for the engineering aspect of the exercise.

The exercise also covers the construction of two 3-km farmto- market roads, one in Barangay Malidong, Pio Duran, Albay and the other in Bgy. Guruyan in Juban, Sorsogon; two-classroom school buildings at one each for the barangays of Guruyan, Juban, Sorsogon and Dapdap in Uson, Masbate; and three water distribution and reservoir systems in Uson town for Barangays Sawang and Dapdap and at the Dapdap Elementary School.

Reports showed that works on the engineering projects would start on April 1 while the medical/ dental missions on April 16 up to April 30 -- covering a total of 13 villages, six of which are in Albay province, two in Sorsogon and five in Masbate.

The Armed Forces will deploy troops from the 901st Infantry Brigade to protect the medical and engineering units of the RP and US military as well as residents of the target villages against threats from dissidents.

The Philippines will complement with the same number of military personnel (doctors and engineers) the expected 300 or more participating US military servicemen.

The more than 20-year old RPUS joint military exercises were part of the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty forged by the Philippines and the United States to respond in the event of an attack by foreign forces on their sovereign territories. (PNA)