Game of Drones

Game of Drones by Spatial Ensaymada

This year’s Balikatan Exercises seems to be the biggest, most bad-ass one to date. In terms of gadgetry, they’re bringing in the big toys: drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles flown by remote control, particularly useful for surveillance and armed attacks. In terms of people, they’re flying in not just American troops, but also other personnel being trained from around the ASEAN region. According to the US military, the whole thing is part of their grand plan to “reassert its presence in Asia… because of the region’s economic importance and China’s rise as a military power. It aims to retain American military pre-eminence worldwide despite stiff budget cuts.” In short, even with massive crisis in their homeland, the USA is still choosing to focus on warmongering worldwide.

As far as war games go, clearly, it’s more fun in the Philippines. Our new tourism slogan certainly holds true for US troops, who love our “notorious red-light districts where alcohol and scantily clad women have attracted many Marines and sailors over the years.” In fact, US ambassador Harry Thomas famously announced that nearly half of male tourists come here for sex. And what other playground can offer servicemen the freedom to rape women with impunity, as shown by the Smith/Nicole case? Our government, in return, is demonstrating the world-famous Filipino warmth and hospitality by offering all this “extra serbis” with a smile. “We would like the Americans to come more often,” says the Philippine foreign affairs secretary. “Let’s have these joint training exercises more frequently and on a bigger scale—as many times as we can, in different places if we can.”

It’s not just the Pinoy guys giving the extra serbis. To show that the Visiting Forces Agreement is more or less equitable, Joe is also willing to give his brown brothers a helping hand. The Balikatan exercises include a large socio-civic component, where the US and Philippine military join hands to build schools and offer medical, dental, even veterinary services. One wonders why we are now being dependent on the military, both local and American, to provide us with basic social services that the government itself is reluctant to offer. Is it a strategy to weaken the state and increase the people’s dependence on the military? Perhaps. “Nobody understands it better than the soldiers that have experience in the Philippines,” said the commander of the Army’s Special Operations Command. “They understand counterinsurgency.” Is the Philippines a future model for US-led counterinsurgencies? “Absolutely.”

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