Philippines to end joint military drills with US

Signed in 1998 and ratified in 1999, the VFA provides legal cover to American troops temporarily deployed in the Philippines to participate in military activities including joint exercises. (AFP)
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Updated 14 February 2020

Philippines to end joint military drills with US

  • Over 300 military exercises between the two armed forces are scheduled for this year

MANILA: Joint combat drills between Philippine and US forces will end with the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) in August, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said on Thursday.

“Once the termination is final, we will cease to have exercises with them,” Lorenzana said in his first public statement since the Philippines formally served notice of the termination of the VFA to the US.

Signed in 1998 and ratified in 1999, the VFA provides legal cover to American troops temporarily deployed in the Philippines to participate in military activities including joint exercises.

Article IX of the VFA says: “This agreement shall remain in force until the expiration of 180 days from the date on which either party gives the other party notice in writing that it desires to terminate the agreement.”

However, Lorenzana said military drills between the Philippines and US armed forces scheduled to take place while the VFA is still in effect will still happen.

“With the formal serving of the notice of termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement, this year’s planned military exercises with the Americans shall proceed as scheduled within the 180 days that the VFA remains in force,” Lorenzana explained.

SPEEDREAD

Over 300 military exercises between the two armed forces are scheduled for this year, including the annual Balikatan (shoulder-to-shoulder) exercise scheduled to take place May 3 to 15.

This year marks the 36th iteration of the annual training event, which is focused on a variety of missions including humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, counterterrorism, and mutual defense. 

The Balikatan exercise, the most prominent of the Philippines-US joint exercises, also focuses on interoperability training events.

Lorenzana, however, said their American counterparts “may opt to discontinue the scheduled exercises before the 180 days are up.”

On Wednesday, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Felimon Santos said around half of the 318 activities laid out this year with their US counterparts will be affected once the VFA is terminated.

Santos added that the Armed Forces support President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision to scrap the agreement, and said that the Philippines will survive without the VFA.

The AFP chief also said that to make up for losing the VFA with the US, the Philippines will increase its engagements with other countries, including Japan and Australia, and will look to sign VFAs with such allies.


India faces worst locust crisis in decades

Updated 05 June 2020

India faces worst locust crisis in decades

  • Indo-Pak border a breeding ground for bug; worst attack in over 20 years, says expert

NEW DELHI: Suresh Kumar was sipping tea on the balcony of his Jaipur house on Friday when the sun suddenly disappeared. Thinking it was probably a black cloud that was filtering out the daylight, he looked up and saw swarms of locusts covering the sky of the capital city of the western Indian state of Rajasthan.

Within a few minutes, short-horned grasshoppers were everywhere —walls, balconies and nearby trees — as they forced people to take refuge in their houses.

“It was unprecedented,” Kumar, who lives in Jaipur’s walled city area, told Arab News on Thursday. “Never before have I witnessed such a scene. Suddenly millions of aliens invaded our locality. Some residents of the neighborhood tried to bang some steel plates to shoo them off, but the jarring sound did not make much of an impact. However, the swarms left the area within an hour or so.”

More than a thousand kilometers away, in the Balaghat district of the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, farmer Dev Singh had a similar experience, although the bugs not only occupied his farmhouse, they destroyed the budding leaves of different kinds of pulses which he had sown in his field.

“Only a few weeks ago I harvested the wheat crop,” he told Arab News. “In a way, I’m lucky that the locusts have come now … otherwise the damage would have been much greater,” but he added that “with the pulse plant damaged in good measure, the yield will not be great this year.”

His area has been cleared of the locusts after the intervention of local authorities, which sprayed chemicals to kill the bugs and blared out sirens to shoo them off.

India is already grappling with an alarming surge of coronavirus cases and struggling to cope with the devastation caused by a recent cyclone. The country is also dealing with rising unemployment figures after more than 100 million people went jobless due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is facing security issues, too, in the form of a seething border dispute with China. The locust invasion has added to beleaguered India’s laundry list of woes.

Scientists said it was a serious crisis.

“This is the worst locust attack in more than two decades,” Dr. K. L. Gurjar, of the Faridabad-based Locust Warning Organization, told Arab News. “Compared to the past, these locusts are younger and have traveled a longer distance. This should be a cause of concern. The states of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh will be badly impacted. We are controlling and containing the situation on a daily basis.”

According to media reports, around 50,000 hectares of farmland have been destroyed by desert locusts in the two states during the last four weeks.

“The problem will persist until the invasion of swarms continues from across the border in Pakistan and Iran. The Indo-Pak border has become the breeding ground for the bug,” Gurjar added.

But he remained hopeful that the country would get rid of the menace through its measures, despite the present danger.

“There is a danger of locusts remaining alive for a longer period, though we are hopeful to ultimately sort them out.”

The Jawaharlal Nehru Agriculture University (JNAU) of Jabalpur has also been monitoring the situation in Madhya Pradesh, noting that locusts damage the crop completely wherever they go.

“Desert locusts stay immobile throughout the night and their movement begins again in the morning and they fly along the direction of the wind,” JNAU’s Dr. Om Gupta told Arab News. “Wherever they find shelter, they damage the crops in totality. In some areas, locusts have created havoc.”

She added that spray was generally used in the evening or early morning to kill the bugs. “They breed very fast and we focus on killing their eggs. What we are dealing with is nothing short of a catastrophe, and we are not going to get respite from this anytime soon.”