LEGAZPI CITY--The first soldiers of an estimated 6,000-strong US contingent have started arriving in Bikol, according to Bikolano Alliance for Nationalism and Against Balikatan (BAN Balikatan) spokesperson Jocelyn Bisuña.
She said that around a hundred soldiers are now booked in several prominent hotels in the city, prompting organizers of the Magayon Festival to look for alternate housing for tourists.
Albay Tourism Committee head Glenda Bongao shared her dismay over the radio regarding the unexpected arrival of American soldiers in the hotels.
Bisuña said that the soldiers should be confined to their barracks and not in hotels as regular tourists. She also added that the soldiers are taking advantage of the period before the Balikatan proper for “rest and recreation”.
In a statement released to the media, Bisuña explained that the presence of the visiting US forces can greatly affect the tourism industry in Bikol and contribute to the worsening economic crisis.
However, she also said in a separate interview that members of the different sectors, especially in Albay, have given additional support to BAN Balikatan’s efforts. Bisuña said that the academe have been active in showing support for the movement especially during demonstrations and other similar activities. She also identified the Church and its support to the movement.
The spokesperson also added that members of the movement will conduct regular demonstrations at the Legazpi airport to greet arriving US forces.
When asked about the possible effects of Subic rape victim Nicole’s new affidavit clearing convicted rapist Corporal Daniel Smith, Bisuña said that the issue will not derail the movement’s plans. She added that “Nicole is a victim of unjust structures, and US oppression.” Contrary to the expected effects, the latest twist in the rape case has only garnered more sympathy and support for Nicole and the anti- Balikatan groups in the country, the spokesperson said.
If anything, she adds, the latest development is proof of the great pressure the US and Philippine government has placed on Nicole and her family.
She also refuted the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) claim that groups opposing Balikatan are against Bikol development. Bisuña said that the humanitarian aspect of the exercises are just “preliminary” and that the presence of US forces always include “war exercises component”.
She also criticized the visiting forces, saying that the US government’s fight against terrorism should not include the Bikol region. “Wala namang Abu Sayyaf sa Bikol, ah,” she quipped.