Friday, January 27, 2006

Piñol to GMA: Freeze RP-US military drills in N. Cotabato

Hits refusal to turn over accused American Marines to RP court

KIDAPAWAN CITY — North Cotabato Gov. Manny Piñol led provincial officials here last Tuesday in asking President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to immediately suspend the US-Philippines joint military exercise in his province if the United States continues to reject a request of Philippine courts to have jurisdiction over American soldiers charged with raping a Filipina in Subic.

Setting aside their traditional pro-American stance, Governor Piñol and members of the provincial board led by Vice Gov. Jesus Sacdalan said: "We cannot sit down and play host to soldiers of a nation which insults and hurts a people who consider America a friend."

"What if, God forbid, a similar case happens during the conduct of the Balance Piston exercises in our province? Would the US government turn over the suspects to our local court? With the Luzon case as a precedent, the answer is most probably No," the provincial officials said.

"We cannot allow this to happen because in this little place we call home, we have always believed that ‘no one is above the law," the officials said in a statement.

North Cotabato is hosting the Balance Piston 06-02 joint military exercise as part of Balikatan at the Philippine Army’s Camp Lucero in Carmen.

Some 30 American and 250 Filipino soldiers are taking part in the month-long exercise that started last week.

Last year, despite protests, Governor Piñol supported the holding of a similar exercise at Camp Lucero. At that time, he dismissed accusations of militant groups who feared that the military exercise would result in human rights abuses and the spread of prostitution. He even welcomed the US contingent by hosting the Governor’s Night at the Provincial Capitol.

This time, the provincial officials reject the Balikatan exercises until "the US government respect our sovereignty as a nation and immediately turn over the American soldiers charged with rape within the jurisdiction of Philippine courts."

"If the US government continues to display arrogance in this case, then we will refuse the conduct of future Balikatan exercises in North Cotabato," Piñol said.

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