Cagayan de Oro - Thousands of people in Mindanao marched in key cities to protest the opening of the US-RP Balikatan exercises and denounced the Arroyo government’s puppetry to US interests.
Cagayan de Oro became a central point of the Mindanao anti-Balikatan protest, as 5,000 people joined the Peoples’ March for Sovereignty, Peace and Justice including contingents from Zamboanga, Lanao del Sur, Lanao del Norte, Misamis Oriental, Bukidnon, and Caraga.
Bayan Muna Representative Satur Ocampo and Gabriela Women Party representative Liza Maza joined the march and later in the rally called for the unity of Mindanao people to oust the US troops and President Arroyo.
Moro, Lumad and Christian groups led by the US Troops Out Now! Mindanao and Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) convened the caravan.Rallies in Cotabato City and Pikit, North Cotabato gathered around 10,000 people.
Davao City 3,000 protesters led a rally and a cultural program. In General Santos City, 500 protesters marched in the streets after negotiating with police to allow their rally to push through.
“Along with our call for the ouster of US troops, let us also call for the ouster of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo for her puppetry to US interest,” said Ocampo, referring to the growing protest against Arroyo in Manila following the ZTE broadband exposé of Rodolfo Lozada.
Ocampo and Maza threw support to the resolution by some Mindanao congressmen to suspend the Balikatan, citing the February 4 incident in Sulu where US troops were alleged to be behind the killing of eight civilians in a military operation.
Amirah Ali Lidasan, vice president of Suara Bangsamoro, said the US troops have “turned the Moro people into live fire targets of their military exercises.” She cited various Moro civilians in Sulu and Basilan who have been killed or wounded during Balikatan war games.
She said US troops were found to be joining ground operations with the AFP, in clear violation of our national sovereignty.
Lidasan challenged local government officials in the ARMM to side with the people and oppose the Balikatan over the grave human rights abuses of the US military against the Moro people.
Lidasan also lashed against the so-called ‘humanitarian missions’, saying that “US troops give us aid with their right hand, but their left hand is brandishing firearms that kill us.”Groups such as the Sisters’ Association in Mindanao (Samin), Ranao Crescent Against Balikatan Exercises (Racabe) of Lanao del Sur, Kusog sa Katawhang Lumad sa Mindanao (Kalumaran), and Union of Peoples’ Lawyers in Mindanao joined the rallies.
Samin executive secretary Sr. Elsa Compuesto, MSM, said that with the Visiting Forces Agreement, “the US perpetrates an unequal relation with the Philippines where we become dependent on their aid, while they secure resources for their own economic interests.”
Kalumaran and Racabe called for the unity of Lumads and Moro to defend their land against the entry of the American troops, which will pave the way for “development aggression.”Atty. Frederico Gapuz, chair of UPLM, a long-time anti-bases activist, shared a personal challenge to the protesters:
“I’ve been fighting US military intervention for fifty years. It’s been that long, but are we ready to ensure that in our lifetime we can drive them away?”
The protesters responded with a resounding yes.The march rally in Cagayan de Oro ended with the protesters burning the US flag and an effigy of Arroyo.
The peoples’ march was preceded by activities set by the Out Now! Mindanao coalition in various cities, including forums and rallies. In Marawi, protesters threw stones at US military vehicles in protest of their presence.(Press Release: Atty. Beverly MusniOut Now! convenor)