Tuesday, January 24, 2006

North Cotabato Rejects RP-US Anti-Terror Training

NORTH COTABATO (Carlos Bautista / 24 Jan) North Cotabato Gov. Manny Piñol on Tuesday led provincial officials in calling President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to immediately suspend the US-RP joint military exercise here should the United States continue to turn down the request of Philippine courts to have jurisdiction over American soldiers charged with the rape of a Filipina in Subic last year.

In a rare public declaration, Gov. Piñol and the North Cotabato Provincial Board Council led by Vice Gov. Jesus Sacdalan, said: “We cannot sit down and play host to the soldiers of a nation which insults and hurts a people who consider America a friend.”

“What if, God forbid, a similar case would happen during the conduct of the Balance Piston exercises in our province? Would the US government turn over the suspects to our local courts? 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 small place we call home, we have always believe that no one is above the law,” they added.

North Cotabato is hosting the Balance Piston 06-02 joint military exercise as part of Balikatan at the Philippine Army headquarters called Camp Lucero in Carmen town.
Some 30 American and about 250 Filipino soldiers are taking part in the exercise.

Last year, despite anti-US protests, Gov. Piñol supported the holding of a similar training exercise at Camp Lucero. He dismissed accusations raised by militant groups that the exercise would result to human rights abuses and the spread of prostitution, and even welcomed the US contingent by hosting the Governor’s Night at the Provincial Capitol. This year, the governor has cancelled the activity.
“The US government should respect our sovereignty as a nation and immediately turn over the American soldiers charged with rape to the jurisdiction of Philippine courts,” Gov. Piñol said.

“If the US government continues to display arrogance in this case, then we will refuse the conduct of future Balikatan Exercises in the Province of North Cotabato,” he said.

Gov. Piñol and the provincial officials said they recognize the great help of the US government in the rehabilitation program of North Cotabato, a former conflict area, from agricultural assistance to books for public schools.

“But we cannot happily count the blessings we received from the US government and turn a deaf ear and close our eyes to the fact that the whole nation is being slapped around and insulted by a country whose ideals of democracy and justice we so dearly embrace.”

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