10 pm curfew, nightclub ban imposed on US troops in PH

Carmela Fonbuena
'Liberty is not authorized in the Philippines,' the spokesman of the US Pacific Command tells Rappler

WAR GAMES. A US soldier looks on as Filipinos fire their rifles in a mock 'assault' scenario as part of the PH-US joint military live fire exercises in May 2014. Photo by Dennis Sabangan/EPA

MANILA, Philippines – The nearly 7,000 American soldiers participating in war games in the Philippines this month will have to follow the restrictions imposed on all US servicemen deployed in the country, including a 10 pm curfew and a ban on entering bars and nightclubs.

“Liberty is not authorized in the Philippines,” Major Dave Eastburn, spokesman of the Hawaii-based US Pacific Command, told Rappler.

The liberty policy that was adjusted in late 2014 following the death of Filipino transgender Jennifer Laude, allegedly in the hands of US Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton, remains in force. 

It means the movement of US troops outside official activities will be strictly limited within the vicinity of their respective hotels.

“Liberty is not authorized in the Philippines.  Service members participating in, and supporting Balikatan 2015 may only eat in restaurants inside their hotel or within close proximity to their hotel (walking distance) if their hotel does not have a restaurant inside. 

Bars and nightclubs are off limits and all participants in Balikatan 2015 must be back in their hotel by 10:00 p.m. 

Service members may participate in command sponsored community relations events and ships may authorize events on the pier.”

– Major Dave Eastburn, U.S. Pacific Command spokesman

Scrutinizing US presence

Laude’s death in October 2014 put US presence in the Philippines under scrutiny, dealing a blow on a new military-to-military agreement that seeks to give the Americans greater leeway in sending more troops and building facilities in the country.

Pemberton was in the Philippines for joint exercises and allegedly committed the crime during a furlough in Olongapo City.

He is currently detained inside Camp Aguinaldo, the Philippine military headquarters, while his murder trial is ongoing. 

The national debate over Laude’s death has not even died down when another crisis prompted questions on the activities of the US military in the Philippines – the botched operation of the police Special Action Force (SAF) in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, on January 25.

The Senate report on the SAF operation against terrorists Zulkifli bin Hir or Marwan and Abdul Basit Usman was critical of US involvement in the bloodiest one-day operation in the history of the Philippine National Police (PNP). 

“Are there any consequences to working with the US in pursuing its global war on terror? Obviously, in the Mamasapano operation, the consequence of that mission to get Marwan and Usman was the death of a large number of Filipino soldiers and civilians,” the report said.

The Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) signed in April 2014 shortly before the visit of US President Barack Obama, was negotiated in the backdrop of the US strategy to rebalance to the Asia Pacific and the Philippines’ request for US assistance in its territorial row with China.

EDCA is still pending in the Supreme Court over questions on its constitutionality.

Expanded Balikatan

The Balikatan exercises is the first major activity between the two countries since Laude’s death. 

Still, both the US and Philippine militaries doubled the number of troops joining the war games this year – 6,656 Americans from 2,500 last year, and 5,023 Filipinos from 3,000 last year.

Balikatan activities are scheduled April 6 to 30  in various areas in the country. 

It is held at a time when the US and the Philippines are strongly opposing China’s massive reclamation activities in the West Philippines Sea (South China Sea). 

The war games are also led by the chief of the military command in charge of the West Philippine Sea. Palawan-based Western Command (WestCom) chief Vice Admiral Alexander Lopez is the exercise director.

Balikatan 2015 will have 3 simultaneous events:

  • Command Post Exercise on maritime security combined with live fire exercise to demonstrate the capability of the AFP National Maneuver Force
  • Field training exercises involving various units of the US and Philippine militaries
  • Humanitarian Civic Assistance events for combined and join civil-military operations

On its 31st iteration, the Philippine-US war games are designed to improve interoperability between the two militaries.  Rappler.com