US imposed media ban on live-fire exercises with Philippines

The American side in the just-concluded Balikatan 2012 joint military exercise changed rules unilaterally and imposed a media blackout on major live-fire exercises between the Philippines and United States military.

Live fire exercises were held at Crow Valley in Tarlac and at El Nido in Palawan.

The United States, according to a Philippine military source, made "several changes in the program of activities" apparently to avoid irritating China amid the standoff in the Scarborough Shoal that started on April 10.

"They made many changes to the plans and disallowed media coverage for Crow Valley and El Nido," said the source, who asked not to be identified for lack of authority to speak on the matter.

The Crow Valley maneuvers, held on April 26, involved live-fire air and ground maneuvers and should have been open to media coverage as in past exercises, while the oil-rig takeover drill, which took place on April 20, was the first time such a scenario was introduced, a scenario which anticipated a counterattack on an oil facility taken over by hostile forces in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

"When the Scarborough standoff happened, they (US Forces) suddenly became very cautious about how media was going to play up those stories.

"Ingat na ingat sila (They were very careful) and they wanted to forgo some of the activities," the source said.

Western Command spokesperson Maj. Neil Estrella, contacted by phone Saturday, was asked if the El Nido oil-rig takeover exercise was supposed to be open to media coverage. He said the decision to make it off limits was "reached by both sides."

"There were several considerations why it was not made open to the media. One was safety," Estrella said.

The source, however, insisted that it was the American side that decided "unilaterally" that the media could not cover the oil-rig event.

"It was obvious the Americans did not want the military maneuvers to hog the limelight as the Philippines and China were in a standoff at Scarborough," the source said.

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