MANILA and Capas, Tarlac—American troops, who will take part in this year’s bilateral military exercise with their Filipino counterparts, would start arriving in Northern Luzon on Monday along with their equipment, some of which would be seen and used for the first time in the 30-year history of the war games.
Capt. Celeste Frank Sayson said the US forces should start disembarking in the operational areas of the Armed Forces Northern Luzon Command in preparation for the Balikatan. Sayson, Balikatan public affairs officer, said the war training component will be held for 10 days in selected areas around the country and involves live-fire exercises.
The war games will formally open on April 4 and will run until April 14, although its command and planning component or what the participants called “table top exercise” will begin at Camp Aguinaldo on March 28.
A total of 4,904 US troops will join the actual exercises, along with 3,773 Filipino troops.
For the first time, the US will showcase what it calls the high-mobility artillery rocket system (Himars) on top of the 55 various aircraft and at least five warships that it would use. The Himars will be used in the live-fire exercises at the Crow Valley Gunnery Range in Barangay Santa Juliana in the municipality of Capas, Tarlac, and later on will be transported to Palawan, according to Sayson.
The Himars is the newest member of the multiple-launch rocket system (MLRS) family. It is a highly mobile artillery rocket system offering the firepower of MLRS on a wheeled chassis.
Himars engages artillery, air-defense concentrations, trucks, light armor and personnel carriers, as well as support troop and supply concentrations. Himars launches its weapons and moves away from the area at high speed before enemy forces locate the launch site, documents provided by Sayson said.
“Part of the live-fire exercises in Crow Valley is the Himars, which is for air protection,” Sayson earlier said. “It is also an anti-ship warfare, ground warfare asset. Later on it will be brought to Palawan although it will not be doing some live-fire exercises in Palawan.”
Aside from the rocket system, the US side will also use 55 various aircraft, including Ospreys.
On the other hand, the Armed Forces will fly its various assets, including its two brand new FA-50 lead in fighter jets and S-211s. It would also sail two battleships. Likewise, for the first time, around 80 Australian military personnel
will join the military exercises.
“Australia will be bringing in one aircraft which could be used for HADR [humanitarian assistance and disaster response] and civil military operations,” Sayson said.
This year’s training will also have military observers from Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, India, Japan, South Korea and Timor Leste.
IN view of the Balikatan, the Capas Municipal Tourism Office (CMTO) in Tarlac has announced that trekking to the world-renowned crater of Mount Pinatubo will be temporarily suspended until April 15.
Barangay Santa Juliana is where Crow Valley is located and also the takeoff point for novice trekkers to the Pinatubo crater, which formed a scenic emerald-colored lake or caldera 2 kilometers in diameter.
In an earlier CMTO advisory, the Mount Pinatubo trek was temporarily suspended from March 23 to 26 spoiling the vacation of scores of tourists all set to make the trek to the crater.
The CMTO advisory said “trekking to the Pinatubo crater is temporarily suspended effective March 23 due to the imposition of additional fees of P700 per person pursuant to an amendment to Botolan, Zambales, Municipal Ordinance (MO)
1-2015,” which municipal officials here said is “arbitrarily being collected from tourists and guests.” Marissa Velasquez-Vidal, acting Municipal tourism officer, signed the advisory which she said was a directive from Mayor Antonio Rodriguez.
Department of Tourism (DOT) Central Luzon Regional Director Ronnie Tiotuico had to intervene after the CMTO prevented a German television crew from trekking to Mount Pinatubo on March 23.
Tiotuico said the German TV crew was on its last day of gathering footage for a documentary to be shown in Germany when the advisory took effect, preventing them from going to the crater.
Vidal said the imposition of the additional fees is being contested by the indigenous people (IPs) of Zambales, who are the legal private owners of the Pinatubo crater area by virtue of a Certificate of Ancestral Domain title. According to Vidal, the IPs’ complaints prompted the CMTO to issue the advisory.
However, Vidal said they lifted the suspension on March 26. The Sangguniang Bayan (SB) of Botolan, Zambales’s resolution imposed
an additional P350 environmental fee and P250 ancestral domain
preservation fee on top of the P100 ecotourism fee earlier imposed by MO 1-2015 for a total of P700. The SB resolution said a fine of P2,500 will be imposed on anyone who refuses to pay the additional fees, which is being collected by employees of the Botolan, Zambales, local government unit at the boundary of Capas, Tarlac and Botolan, Zambales.
With reporting by Ashley Manabat