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AFP vows help for Zambales fishermen who will be affected by Balikatan 2023

Assistance will be given to fishermen who will be affected by the conduct of Balikatan exercises of Filipino and United States troops, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said on Wednesday.

Balikatan Exercise executive agent for the Philippines Colonel Michael Logico said the military already coordinated with the provincial government regarding the two-day activity in Zambales.

“They will be distributing this for the fishermen that will be affected by the two-day activity,” Logico told reporters.

AFP spokesperson Colonel Medel Aguilar, meanwhile, also assured the public that there would be no explosives left in the activity but fishermen will still be prohibited from sailing from April 25 to 26.

"We are coordinating with the LGU and at the same time, Armed Forces of the Philippines, we are also preparing something for them. Hindi lang ito sa medical kundi sa even sa unexploded ordinance (Not only for medical but also for unexploded ordinance). So these are all being considered to make sure that ‘yung impact ng activities especially sa environment will be minimized,” Aguilar said in a 24 Oras interview.

“We will make sure that no one will be harmed or hurt during the exercise. And we are also making sure appropriate assistance will be provided to them,” he said in a separate interview on ANC.

Aguilar added that all necessary preparations and precautions are already in place.

On Tuesday, the Philippines and the United States kicked off their biggest Balikatan military exercise which aims to develop interoperability between the two countries and improve capability.

Logico earlier said it will be the first time Philippine and US forces will engage in live-fire exercises at sea. The training will include combined joint littoral live fire exercise in Zambales.

The troops will sink an old Philippine Navy vessel.

“That is an old Navy vessel that we acquired through US grant in 1953 and this is a ship that has already served with the  Philippine Navy,” Logico said.

“Now it will serve its final duty by contributing to our capability so to speak and this is the perfect way for us to, a perfect send off for a man of war,” he added.

Aguilar then mentioned at the public briefing that an invitation was sent to President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. to watch the live fire exercises, but the Palace has not yet confirmed his attendance.

“Ito ay pagkakataon natin para makita natin at magamit din ‘yung mga teknolohiya na available sa ating mga partner country to fill in yung mga capability gaps that come out during the assessment ng kakayahan natin,” Aguilar noted

(This is an opportunity to use the technology available to our partner country and fill our capability gaps that come out during the assessment.)

In a statement, fisherfolk group PAMALAKAYA vice chairperson for Luzon Bobby Roldan said the exercises will not only affect the livelihood of fishermen but will also pose a threat to the country.

“First of all, the immediate impact of a day without fishing for the fishers and their families cannot be equated to whatever benefit that may be gained from Balikatan,” he said.

“The concerns of many sectors and patriotic individuals are legitimate that the Philippines might be caught in the crossfire of the power struggle between the U.S. and China,” he added. 

However, Aguilar refused to comment on the claims that only the Americans benefited from the Balikatan exercises while AFP stagnated.

“I think, kami na mismo makakapagsabi and not them. So I don't want to dignify their statement. Marami tayong benefit, hindi lamang sa kaalaman, software, hardwares at especially ‘yung relationship building,” he said.

(We should be the ones to say it, not them. I don't want to dignify their statement. It has a lot of benefits, not only in terms of knowledge in software and hardware but especially in building relationships.)  —VAL, GMA Integrated News