The Ivatans don't want Balikatan

This article is available in Pilipino

On April 8, the local government of Batanes issued a sober reminder to all visitors to the province to be considerate of their herds while touring the island. They ask them not to startle or stress the animals in the pasture and leave them alone on the roads and parks. Batanes is one of the peaceful and pleasant places in the Philippines that tourists flock to.

But this coming April 25 to May 9, the Ivatans and their herds will experience more than shock and stress. For the second time, the province will host the Balikatan, involving thousands of American troopers. Hundreds of aircraft, ships and cannons will be brought to Batan island to conduct war maneuvers such as Military Free-Fall/Fast Re-Insertion and Extraction, Forward Refueling Point/Island Seizure, HIMARS Insertion and Reconnaissance and Island Seizure. As an appeasement, the US withdrew plans of conducting live-fire exercises on the island, after residents complained about heavy gunfire during last year’s Balikatan here. Instead, the US will conduct these maneuvers on Mavulis, the country’s northernmost island.

Why Mavulis?

Mavulis Island, part of Itbayat, Batanes, is only 128 kilometers away from Cape Eluanbi, the southernmost part of the Taiwan island. It is closer to Taiwan than Luzon. This is the farthest part of the Philippines where the US can build military facilities, ports and military equipment warehouses to serve as launching pad for the war it is provoking against China.

Between Mavulis and Taiwan’s Orchid Island is the Bashi Channel, an important international passage that the US considers a strategic corridor for its ships coming from the Pacific Ocean going to the South China Sea. It holds 98% of the undersea communications cables connecting South and Southeast Asia to the rest of the world. All electronic, telephone and internet communications flow through these cables, including sensitive diplomatic and military information.

Since 2018, the US has been continuously building military facilities here, in collaboration with the AFP, under the guise of “external defense.” A building, a water desalination plant, a helipad and a lighthouse currently stand on the top of the island’s hill. In October 2023, the AFP inaugurated a naval outpost here built into the hillside.

Ivatan distress

The Ivatans are dismayed that American troops will again swarm their islands. The 2023 Balikatan held here caused widespread anxiety, as residents went into a panic-buying frenzy when they learned that thousands of American soldiers would be arriving. The mayor of Basco, the provincial capital, himself said that the island is quiet and peaceful, and should be left alone by the Americans.

This year, they know China has already warned the Philippines to stop participating in the US forces schemes and to stop interfering in the internal affairs of Taiwan and China. But instead of taking heed, Marcos and the AFP dragged the country and the entire nation into the possibility of an armed confrontation between the US and China.

Not satisfied, the US, in cahoots with the Marcos regime, also wants to use the Ivatans as cannon fodder by drafting them as army reservists. Latest reports say that 109 reservists have been trained to face China’s bombs or bullets if the war being provoked by the US erupts.

Balikatan has severely disrupted the Ivatans’ livelihood. Many of them could not farm nor fish while American troops used their farms, pastures, coasts and seas for military exercises and saber-rattling on land and sea, using their cannons, tanks and warships. This has been the ordeal of Cagayan people when Balikatan was launched in Claveria, Aparri, Calayan Island and Sta. Ana. This comes on top of their suffering from low fish catch and loss of livelihood due to El Niño.

The Ivatans don't want Balikatan