American shoos away squatting soldiers

Edwin Espejo
A former US corps volunteer protests soldiers' New Year party at his beach property

GENERAL SANTOS CITY, Philippines – American businessman John Heitz did not find it amusing to find soldiers belonging to the Army’s  73rd Infantry Battalion enjoying their New Year’s Day inside his beach front property.

So, he asked them to leave. The soldiers found this rude.

For a brief moment, they greeted each other with not-so-pleasant pleasantries on New Year’s Day.

“They were on (our) private property with out our permission. Using our facilities and electricity for the sound system they brought. When we arrived, I told them they had to leave,” Heitz posted on his Facebook group page.

Heitz, who is into fresh tuna trading, claimed some soldiers were already drunk when he and his Filipina wife arrived.

Not used to being given the cold shoulder, the soldiers apparently resented the American’s curt and direct ways and accused Heitz of being a communist and an arrogant rich guy.

Heitz happens to be a strong advocate against the planned construction of a coal-fired power plant, which is just across from the edge of his beachfront property.

He has been claiming that the 73rd IB was stationed in the village of Kamanga in Maasim, Sarangani, to provide security to the power plant.

Heitz, a former US Peace Corps volunteer, also guides scuba divers in the marine-rich Tinoto Reef, which he believes would be damaged by the proposed coal fired power plant.

With permission?
He is a longtime resident of this city, having been in tuna trading since the 1980s. His wife is a Maguindanaoan Muslim.  He is fluent in the Visayan dialect and still possesses a wealth of information in the Socsksargen area including the region’s river tributaries.

Lt. Col Adolfo Espuelas, commanding officer of the 73rd IB, said the incident was brought to his attention and gave assurances he would look into it once he arrives from his military furlough.

He said his men had asked permission from Heitz’ caretaker to use the beach front for their Sunday’s off, which happened to be New Year’s Day, contrary to the American’s claim that the soldiers just crashed into his property.

“My men were packing their things and were already leaving but Heitz was apparently still fuming which led to the confrontation,” Espuelas explained.

Espuelas said he already asked for an apology from Heitz but will still pursue and investigation on the conduct of his men.

The 73rd IB has been voted several times as one of the best units of the Philippine Army. It has received various logistic and training support from the US, such as a sophisticated radar system.

The battalion is also hosting different trainings conducted by American troops, which include bomb disposal, marksmanship and combat maneuvers.

The confrontation between Heitz and the Philippine soldiers nevertheless ended peacefully when the latter packed up.

Heitz however had the last word. “They moved next to Susan Beach and squatted there,” he said. – Rappler.com