US SPECIAL FORCES, “EMBEDDED” IN ARROYO’S FASCIST REGIME, ENGAGE MUSLIM INSURGENTS IN THE PHILIPPINES
by E. SAN JUAN, Jr.
Philippines Cultural Studies Center, Connecticut, USA
Except for natural disasters such as the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo, or the sinking of a ferry with hundreds of victims, nobody notices what’s going on in the Philippines today. But now that Britney Spears just belted out her tempting warble of “sneaking into the Philippines, ” can the PENTAGON Special Forces not be far behind to get a piece of the action? Before you can say “Yo Mama!” US troops are found already “embedded” in the Empire’s most Americanized islands where savage class wars have been raging for decades.
The US invaded the Philippines in 1898 during the Spanish-American War, but it created the “first Vietnam” (to quote the historian Bernard Fall) when 1.4 million Filipino recalcitrants had to be “neutralized” to convert the revolutionary Philippine Republic into an “insular possession.” Mark Twain praised the US government’s success in acquiring “property in the three hundred concubines and other slaves of our business partner, the Sultan of Sulu,” referring to the “civilizing mission” of US diplomacy over the Muslim inhabitants of the southern Philippines (E. San Juan, US Imperialism and Revolution in the Philippines, 2007). But in the 1906 siege at Mt. Dajo and the 1913 rout at Mt. Bagsak, both in Jolo, the US military had to massacre thousands of Muslim men, women and children to complete the islands’ pacification. The victors seemed not to have learned anything, so history is repeating itself.
A hundred years after, the U.S. seems to be doing the job again.
By the last week of September, the total casualty figure surpassed three hundred as government troops (with their US advisers/trainers) and Moro (Muslim citizens of the Philippines) militants clashed in the southern Philippines. The scale of violence and magnitude of civilian suffering reached a crescendo enough to alarm the European Union, but not Bush, Condoleeza Rice, nor the two US presidential candidates. BBC News (9/26/2008) reported that the International Committee of the Red Cross bewailed the plight of tens of thousands of refugees and evacuees, the indiscriminate killing of civilians, and the potential for sectarian “ethnic cleansing.” More than 120,000 people have died since fighting broke out 40 years ago between the Muslim separatists and the neocolonial state, with no end in sight.
With full-scale war between the formidable Moro guerillas and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) about to sweep the country, the U.S. military presence suddenly caught media attention. It was confirmed by government officials that the headquarters of the U.S.-Philippines Joint Special Operations Task Force Philippines (JSOTF-P) is found inside Camp Navarro of the AFP’s Western Mindanao Command in Zamboanga City, Mindanao . Accessed only by U.S. personnel, the physical infrastructure was sealed by permanent walls, concertina wires and sandbags, with visible communication paraphernalia (satellite dishes, antennaes, etc.). From this place, US military operations against domestic insurgents–whether belonging to the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) or to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), or the New People’s Army (NPA)–are launched and directed. In lieu of economic-social reforms, the government’s militarist solution to poverty, unemployment, and extra-judicial killings and kidnappings–over 1,000 victims so far–will only create a refugee crisis, more atrocities and “collateral damage” of innocent civilians, loss of national sovereignty, and impunity for criminal violence committed by the military and police.
Re-occupying “Our Possessions”
The Camp Navarro U.S. outpost is only one of many disposable, low-profile “lily-pad” stations of “forward deployment” for the US military in the post-9/11 period. Tom Engelhardt recently counted more than 750 US military facilities in 39 countries. But many more are not officially acknowledged, such as the 106 bases in Iraq or those in Afghanistan; or in countries like Jordan and Pakistan where bases are shared (Tomgram 2008; Chalmers Johnson, Sorrows of Empire, 2003). This applies to US military installations in the Philippines. US troops in the Philippines refer to their Jolo launching-pad as “Advance Operating Base-920” devoted to “unconventional warfare”(Herbert Docena, Focus on the Global South Media Advisory, 8/15/2007). The JSOTF-P started in 2002 in Mindanao, part of the Pentagon’s realignment of overseas basing network (Michael Klare, “Imperial Reach,” The Nation 4/25/2005). The bases are now called “cooperative security locations” (CSL), a euphemism mentioned in the May 2005 report of the US Commission on Review of Overseas Military Facility Structures, or Overseas Basing Commission. CSLs can be existing military or private facilities available for US military use. These are located in Clark, Subic, Mactan International Airport in the Visayas, in General Santos City airport, in the aforementioned Zamboanga AFP outpost, and in other clandestine areas (Julie Alipala, Philippine Daily Inquirer, Mindanao Bureau, 11/26/2007).
The Arroyo regime readily hands out apologias for the presence of 400-600 US military personnel in the country purportedly serving “mutually beneficial ends,” as the US Embassy claims. Retired General Edilberto Adan of the Presidential Commission on the VFA (Visiting Forces Agrement) openly excuses the U.S. embedded military headquarters as a necessary fixture to maintain “control over their units.” When Arroyo visited the US in May 2003, she boasted of having obtained from Washington $356 million in security-related assistance, the largest military aid package since the closing of US bases in 1992. She claimed that US military aid had grown to “more than 100 million dollars annually from 1.9 million dollars three years ago” (Inquirer News Service, 5/27/2003). Two million dollars were allocated for “Sulu rehabilitation” while four million was allocated to Basilan, the site of the Balikatan exercise in 2002. As a “major non-Nato ally,” Arroyo announced that Bush will continue to give aid to support the Philippines’ “war on terrorism,” not for economic development or for social services, much less for social justice and equity.
“War on terrorists” (“terrorists”, of course, refer to those opposed to US policies; the exploitative neoliberal impositions of the World Bank, World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund) becomes the Arroyo regime’s blanket term to legitimize US infringement and violation of Philippine sovereignty. What results is a war of terror on humanity, a “homeland security imperialism” whose latest symptomatic crisis is the collapse of the US financial system and the erosion of US economic capacity to maintain hegemony (John Bellamy Foster and Robert McChesney, Pox Americana, 2004).
Ghouls of Pacification
A brief historical background may be helpful. When the U.S. granted nominal independence to the Philippines in 1946, one of the conditions for this grant was the retention of 23 military installations all over the pacified colonial territory. It was legitimized by the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty which, under the aegis of Cold War anticommunism, provided for US intervention in case of foreign military invasion by a communist power (Daniel B, Schirmer and Stephen Shalom, The Philippines Reader 1987).
In reviewing the historical record of US colonial subjugation of the islands, William Blum reminds us how the US helped suppress the Huk peasant rebellion in 1940-50. At least one US infantry division collaborated with the Filipino military in killing Huk sympathizers (about 500 peasants, with thousands jailed and tortured) during the months before and after the elections of 1946. In the 1950s, through the Joint US Military Advisory Group and Col. Edward Lansdale (who became notorious for the Phoenix assassination program in Vietnam), then President Ramon Magsaysay used US military advisers, weapons and logistics in unconventional types of counterinsurgency schemes against peasant rebels. Among the CIA agents in government, Arroyo’s father Diosdado Macapagal “provided the Agency with political information for several years and eventually asked for, and received, what he felt he deserved: heavy financial support for his campaign…” Blum concludes that by the early fifties, “Fortress America” in the Philippines was securely in place: “From the Philippines would be launched American air and sea actions against Korea and China, Vietnam and Indonesia….On the islands’ bases, the technology and art of counter-insurgency warfare would be imparted to the troops of America’s other allies in the Pacific” (Killing Hope, NY 2004, p. 42).”
The methodology of US domination changed after the end of the Cold War. Covert intervention adopted the guise of “persuasion” through the rituals of electoral democracy. This was clearly demonstrated after the February Revolution in 1986 when Marcos was overthrown by a popular-cum-military uprising and the elite oligrachy headed by Corazon Aquino was restored to power. The scenario that Philip Agee described in 1992 may still be valid: “As for the Philippines, absent agrarian and other significant reforms, US military intervention could be a last resort should the New People’s Army achieve enough momentum to create significant destabilization or even victory. For the time being, continue the CIA-Pentagon ‘low-intensity’ methods already under way. If unsuccessful and stalemate continues, consider a negotiated settlement as in El Salvador and rely on CIA-NED electoral intervention to exclude the National Democratic Front from power” (Ellen Ray and William Schaap, Covert Action: The Roots of Terrorism, 2003). It appears that it is with the separatist MILF, not the NPA (debilitated by vigilante incursions and internal squabbles), that the US is interested in striking a deal with the help of the US Institute of Peace and partisan Malaysian mediators. It is also an implementation of a flexible divide-and-rule strategy.
Visiting to Overstay: Penetration and Bondage
Immediately after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan after 9/11, the Philippines became the second battlefront in the “war on terrorism.” In February 2002, Arroyo allowed the U.S. Special Operations Command-Pacific to conduct “training exercises” in Mindanao. Earlier, 660 US soldiers arrived in the Philippines, expanding Washington’s “preventive” war to southeast Asia. The San Francisco Chronicle (18 Jan. 2002) editorialized on the “Next Battle: Philippines,” pointing out that the demonized ASG is so discrepant from Al Qaeda, and that poverty and land reform are the causes of conflict in the US neocolony. The first Balikatan war games were held involving 4,773 Filipino and U.S. troops. About 2000 US soldiers participated in counterinsurgency operations disguised as “civic action” in several provinces where the NPA was active: Pampanga, Zambales, Nueva Ecija, Cavite and Palawan. This intrusion of the US military was considered legal under the VFA ratified in 1998, just seven years after the Philippine Senate rejected the renewal of the 1947 RP-US Military Bases Agreement, thus closing the two huge US bases in Asia Clark and Subic) where the US enjoyed extraterritorial rights and inflicted all kinds of abuses and indignities on Filipinos (see Teodoro Agoncillo and Milagros Guerrero, History of the Filipino People, 1970). In June 2002, at least 1,200 military personnel comprised the largest US mission outside Afghanistan (Bobby Tuazon, Unmasking the War on Terror, 2002).
The VFA signifies the legitimized sell-out of Philippine sovereignty. Under the VFA, the US can enter the Philippines anywhere and hold military operations. It restricts the Philippine government in checking US aircrafts and ships for nuclear weapons banned by the Constitution. US authorities have jurisdiction over their servicemen who commit crimes in the Philippines while on duty. The flagrant example is the case of Marine Corporal Daniel Smith, convicted for rape last Dec. 4, 2006. Even before his appeal could be acted upon, the Arroyo government surrendered Smith to the custody of the US Embassy, placing him beyond the jurisdiction of local authorities. In October 2007, US officials promised that rape will no longer be committed during war games. Col. Ben Matthews II, commander of the Marine Aircraft Group and co-director of the Talon Vision ’08 exercise (in which Smith and his three co-accused officers were involved), spoke about “the ethics and morality of individuals, not just soldiers” (Tonette Orejas, “US Marines promise no more rape,” Inquirer 10/21/2009). Meanwhile, the whereabouts of Smith has become a matter of public speculation, or “rumor-mongering” (to use the Marcos dictatorship’s neologism) as the Supreme Court investigates the legality of his transfer.
Aside from the VFA, US troops, attached employees, and their war materiel have been given unlimited and unrestricted freedom of movement, flexibility and maneuver by the Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MlSA, 2003; renewed 2008), and the Security Engagement Board (SEB, 2006). The MLSA permits US forces to use government facilities for storage and pre-positioning of equipment as part of strategic deployments during US war maneuvers in the Asian-Pacific and Middle Eastern regions. All three agreements (reinforcing the Cold-War vintage 1951 Mutual Defense Pact and the Joint US-RP Military Advisory Group) that legalize a permanent “temporary” U.S. military base of operations within the country eviscerate national sovereignty. Both the Arroyo bureaucracy and the mercenary AFP continue to demonstrate their function as tried-and-tested instruments of US global foreign policy and imperialist aggression.
Today, the new agreement covers “non-traditional threats,” a rubric covering a wide spectrum of reasons including terrorism, drug trafficking, piracy, and disasters such as floods, typhoons, earthquakes and epidemics. According to Arroyo’s factotums, the US is not engaged in actual fighting; instead, US servicemen are merely providing critical combat support services by way of intelligence purveyance, logistics and emergency evacuation for AFP counter-terrorism operations. In addition to Balikatan, Kapit-Bisig war exercises have been carried out with three components: training and equipping the AFP, giving humanitarian and civil assistance, and supporting local military campaigns against Muslim militants (E-Balita, 7/25/06). Counter-terrorism thus merges with anti-narcotics and disaster preparedness to produce the public-relations mantra of fighting “transnational crimes” (E-Balita 5/25/2007).
When typhoon Frank wrought havoc in the islands, Bush dispatched the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier group led by the USS Ronald Reagan to the Philippines allegedly to assist in local relief and recovery efforts with its F-18s and 6,000 crew. Arroyo cited its tasks of aerial damage assessment and search-and-rescue operations. The fleet hovered around the Sulu Sea (where Moro insurgents operate) and Panay Island (where the NPA is active). Senator Rodolfo Biazon and progressive groups questioned Arroyo’s welcoming of nuclear-powered vessels (which violates the Philippine Constitution’s ban on the entry of nuclear weapons) and the secrecy of its movements (Juliet Labog-Javellana, “US aircraft carrier stays at edge of RP waters,” Philippine Daily Inquirer, 6/28/2008). Arroyo’s flunkeys cheered this “humanitarian” gesture of GI Joes as more consoling than the Presidential group-hug of disaster victims which Arroyo herself couldn’t give while she was tied up in Washington begging for more money to prop up her beleaguered, subalternized regime.
An earlier intrusion of the USS Blue Ridge in February 2007 occurred during Operation Friendship, a community service project with the AFP. The ship was reported to be involved in a goodwill mission, providing medical assistance and building furniture for a school in Manila (http://rjhm.janes.com/21 March 2007). It was also in this year that the joint war-games named “Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT)” to enhance the interoperability of the navy and marines were transferred from Subic and Zambales in Luzon to Zamboanga and Basilan, known bailiwicks of the ASG and the Indonesian-based Jemaah Islamiyah (EBalita, May 25, 2007).
One other alibi for US military presence in the Philippines is provided by the Pentagon doctrine of “stability operations,” non-combat activities aimed at “quieting domestic disturbances” such as the U.S. pacification drive (1899-1916) to suppress native and Moro resistance, leading to the genocide of 1.4 million Filipinos. The chief excuse for US military presence, however, invokes the threat of international and domestic “terrorism” which justifies U.S. security support for development projects and AFP counterinsurgency actions. Beginning with the Reagan administration in the eighties up to today, the U.S. doctrine of “low intensity warfare” envisioned a flexible combination of “economic assistance with psychological operations and security measures” (Michael Klare and Peter Kornbluh, Low-Intensity Warfare, New York 1989). With the demise of the Soviet Union, “low-intensity warfare” evolved into the preventive or preemptive war on Al Qaeda and extremists, including torture, “extraordinary rendition,” and other “shock-and-awe” tactics.
Hypocrisy and Mystification Galore
In a “Focus on the Philippines” Special Report, Herbert Docena has summarized from various news reports and documents the characteristics of the US “unconventional warfare,” among them, the mixture of covert combat actions with humanitarian projects, training, and other civic actions, which are viewed as “integral” to “foreign internal defense.” Static defensie garrison forces have also been replaced by “mobile expeditionary operations,” as shown in the US operations in Sulu and Mindanao. Such counterinsurgency schemes are conducted “under the guise of an exercise,” as a US official stated (Unconventional Warfare, 2007, p. 24). Further, massive documentary evidences now exist that confirm US troops handling military equipment, defusing landmines, and using military equipment during actual hostilities. Post 9/11 US military doctrine and practice form part of a larger global war effort to repair and buttress US hegemony in various parts of the world, including the Philippines and other “friendly” nations. To achieve military and political supremacy, the US cannot accept the limitations imposed by orthodox diplomacy, treaties, and formal agreements.
The fraud of “humanitarian” succor has been repeatedly exposed. Dr. Carol Pagaduan-Araullo, chair of BAYAN (the largest federation of nationalist groups), addresses this pretext in her commentaries in Business World (9/20/2008). She asserts truth to power: “The Arroyo regime deliberately obfuscates the unbending aim of US geopolitical and military strategy in the Philippines and elsewhere: the pursuit of its own Superpower interests. These include securing areas with strategic communication and supply lines and resources, primarily oil (such as in the Middle East, Central Asia and Southeast Asia), trade routes (such as the South China Sea) and other geographically strategic areas that will ensure its achievement of unrivaled global power. Domestically, the US has a keen interest and long history of interfering in the country’s internal affairs, most especially countering the growing strength and influence of the local anti-imperialist, patriotic and democratic movement.”
No one today is fooled by the alibi that the miniscule ASG militants numbering 400 (wrongly identified as an al-Qaeda affiliate) constitutes a real threat to US internal security. The real targets of US intervention are the New People’s Army and the Communist Party of the Philippines, classified on 8/9/2002 by Colin Powell’s State Department as “terrorists.” In 2005 then Defense Secretary Avelino Cruz stated that the Maoist NPA is the “greatest internal security threat,” requiring the government to enter peace talks with the larger insurgent MILF (Gary Leupp, “Maoist and Muslim Insurgencies in the Philippines,” Bulatlat 5/22-28/2008). This view dovetailed with the belief of Admiral Timothy Keating, chief of the US Pacific Command, who confirmed that the US priority targets included not only the ASG and the Jemaah Islamiyah but also the NPA: “If the government of the Philippines tells us that they need help on the New People’s Army, we would consider and respond. So, yes,” the US would lead the military assault on the NPA” (Christine Avendano, Inquirer.net, 6/28/2007).
Keating recently participated in the meetings of the RP-US Mutual Defense Board and the Security Engagement Board, two agencies directing joint war games and planning counterinsurgency agendas. In response, Fidel Agcaoili of the National Democratic Front called Keating’s remarks “interventionist,” adding that US military support for the puppet government has failed to quell the 37-year old insurgency. Communist Party spokesperson Gregorio “Ka Roger” Rosal said that the US military has long been directly engaged in unconventional, covert combat operations against the 13,500 NPA fighters in 120 guerilla fronts, backed by several thousand militias and mass partisans. Using humanitarian missions as cover, US military conducted intelligence-gathering activities in Bicol and Quezon, as well as gave training, technical assisance, weaponry and intelligence information to the Arroyo regime (Inquirer.net 6/29/2007). This may also explain the acrobatics of Arroyo’s stance toward the MILF and the US willingness to support MILF notions of “ancestral domain.” In short, US military presence is meant to help preserve the Philippines as a neocolonial dependency, a bastion of US hegemony, by supporting the corrupt and morally bankrupt ruling elite (landlords, compradors, bureaucrat capitalists) as their faithful agents in exploiting and oppressing 90 million Filipinos.
Ancestral Domain as “Killing Fields”
Events have overtaken the good intentions of everyone. Arroyo’s abrupt scrapping of the already initialled Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between the neocolonial state and the MILF last August 4 exploded into fierce bloodletting. Over 250,000 civilians became refugees, with several hundreds killed, chiefly due to the indiscriminate aerial and artillery bombardment of the AFP against two small MILF detachments. Why the sudden unilateral deceit and treachery?
After more than four years of peace negotiations facilitated by the Malaysian government and the US Embassy (through the US Institute of Peace), Arroyo’s officials initialed a peace pact that would end several decades of conflict between six million Moros (the 2008 CIA World Factbook counts only 4.5 million out of 96 million Filipinos) and successive administrations since Marcos. But local officials appealed to the Supreme Court to stop the final signing, thus precipitating the hostilities. MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim said that Arroyo failed to inform her constituencies (local officials, other indigenous groups, etc.). It turned out that the real motivation behind the agreement was a secret stratagem to change the Constitution and install a federalist system so that Arroyo and her clique can maintain power after 2010 when her term ends. Clever ploy, indeed, but easily exposed and deflated.
Apart from the possibility of charter change, one may ask: Was Arroyo really intent on pacifying the MILF, just as former president Fidel Ramos pacified the MNLF? One lesson that escaped both parties today is the neutralization if not dismantling of MNLF gains won through enormous sacrifices by way of Misuari’s acquiescence to the 1996 peace agreement, which provides a working model for the MOA. Kenneth Bauzon drives home a point not fully articulated by academic pundits: the 1996 agreement “is essentially a neoliberal formula designed to bring to an end the MNLF’s more than two decades of insurgency. At the same time, the agreement provided legal cover for the entry of capital–both domestic and foreign, and both commercial and philanthropic–to facilitate the integration of an otherwise untapped region, the ARMM, into the global neoliberal world economic order” (in Rethinking the BangsaMoro Crucible, ed. Bobby Tuazon, CENPEG 2008). This explains why US Special Forces have tenaciously and not so surreptitiously embedded themselves in the deeply compromised state apparatus. And why the US Embassy (via the US Institute of Peace and Islamic mediators) insinuated itself in the peace talks, hoping that the Moro “ancestral domain” would easily become grist to the predatory “free market” machinery, the global capitalist commodifying engine, now suffering serious breakdown in Wall Street and Washington.
Amid this stormy landscape enter the “humanitarian” do-gooders. In the AFP’s pursuit of two MILF commanders (Ameril Ombra Kato and Abdullah Macapaar, alias Commander Bravo), US Special Forces were sighted inside the 64th Infantry Battalion Camp in Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Maguindanao. Bai Ali Indayla of the Moro human rights group Kawagip testified that the soldiers were engaged in covert operations, such as the supervision of drones or spy planes (used in 2006 to track down the ASG leaders) and predator missile strikes. This was confimed by Major Gen. Eugenio Cedo, then commander of the Western Mindanao Command (Philippine Daily Inquirer 9/10/2008). As usual, the US Embassy denied that the soldiers were involved in actual combat; they were only responding to the AFP request for aerial surveillance to determine conditions of the terrain and visibility, for “future civil-military projects,” to quote Rebecca Thompson, US Embassy Information Officer.
Cheering from the Sidelines?
The record of US “non-involvement” in combat is too long to be fully rehearsed here. Marites Danguilan Vitug and Glenda Gloria’s well-researched book Under the Crescent Moon: Rebellion in Mindanao (2000) may be consulted for the larger context of US meddling. Suffice it here to mention some tell-tale examples. Asia News (July 2004) reported that US Special Forces established a training camp in Carmen, North Cotabato, to teach 150 AFP soldiers unconventional warfare tactics, night combat sniping and surveillance techniques (People’s Weekly World, 7/17-23/2004). Two German interns of Bantay Ceasefire, supported by the European Center for Conflict Prevention, witnessed US P-3 Orion planes conducting surveillance flights in contestcd villages in Maguindanao where the Abu Sayyaf and MILF elements operate (Evgenia Lipski and Tobias Schuldt, “What are US soldiers doing in Mindanao?” Bulatlat, 8/21-27/2005).
One is reminded of an earlier incident in 2002: the house of a Moro peasant in Basilan island, Buyong-buyong Isnijal, was raided. He was shot in the leg by an American soldier, Sgt. Reggie Lane, who participated in the actual operations. Up to now, no serious investigation has been undertaken to render justice to the victim, Just as nothing has been done to clear up the complicity of four US soldiers in the murder of Corporal Ibnul Wahid, as witnessed by his widow Sandrawina Wahid. She was also one of the witnesses who survived the Feb. 4, 2008 Maimbung massacre. She testified to the presence of US troops during the assault of AFP elite forces on Barangay village, Ipil, Maimbung, Sulu, Eight civilians (a three-month pregnant woman, two children, two teenagers, and her husband, a soldier on vacation) were slain in that combined civic-military action (Carol Pagaduan-Araullo, “Streetwise,” Business World, 9/12-13/2008).
In November 2005, 4 fully armed US soldiers joined the AFP in an encounter with the MNLF followers of Nur Misuari in villages around Indanan, Sulu. They were presumably on a “humanitarian mission,” as claimed by Col. Mark Zimmer, public affairs officer of JSOTF-P (Inquirer News Service, 9/25/2005). Two OV-10 planes dropped several bombs and fired rockets on several villages, killing 15 civilians. After the 2004 bombing of a ferry with over 100 victims, the hunt for the ASG and the Jemaah Islamiyah intensified. Two main suspects of the 2002 Bali bombings were supposed to be holed up with Khaddafy Janjalani, the ASG leader, in Jolo (E-Balita 8/2/2006). The MNLF in Sulu were accused of coddling ASG gunmen. Despite the disclaimers, two groups (Union of Muslims for Morality and Truth, and Concerned Citizens of Sulu) demanded the immediate pullout of US troops from Sulu province for violating the VFA. Jolo city councilor Temojin Tulawie asked: “What would US soldiers be doing within the perimeter of the area of engagement right after the bombs have fallen in Indanan if they were not party to the military offensives?” (Inquirer News Service, 9/28/2005). “They are not peacemakers but provocateurs and warmongers,” Tulawie added. Human Rights Commissioner Nasser Marohomsali asserted that the involvement of US troops clearly violated the 1987 Philippine Constitution which prohibits foreign military from participating in direct combat operations on Philippine soil.
One last incident caps this brief review. In December 2007, US troops ordered the shutting down of a hospital in Panamao town, Sulu, and prevented medical personnel from treating patients after sundown with threats to shoot anybody in the hospital if there is an attack (Al Jacinto, Arab News 1/13/2008. This has angered Muslim villagers and activists early this year, amid preparations for Balikatan 2008 war games in Sulu and Zamboanga where hundreds of US troops are stationed. Washington bureaucracy, however, cannot be deterred by native complaints. In the midst of successive military exercises in Basilan, Sulu, and Zamboanga in 2005, US ambassador Francis Ricciardone revealed that the US Agency for International Development was giving two-thirds of its grants to the region at an average of $50 million a year. Why such generosity? Obviously, to suppress the “bad guys” of the Moro and communist insurgencies, Ricciardone confessed. This is the reason why the US “established a semi-continuous military presence,” hence the bases issue is, for Ricciardone, “an artifact of people’s imagination” (Carolyn Arguillas, MindaNews, 1/11/2006).
Despite the wrath of the Sulu communities, Christopher Hill,US assistant secretary for East Asia and the Pacific, justified the US role of assisting AFP campaigns, together with the police, in countering terrorism (GMANews.TV, 5/25/2006). What he meant was that it was all right to violate the Philippine Constitution and circumvent the vaguely and loosely formulated VFA. BAYAN secretary general Renato Reyes contended that US intelligence work, reconnaissance, and training of AFP soldiers “are part and parcel of actual combat operations” and their embedding in AFP units “shows that GI Joe is more than just an adviser and observer” (News Release, 8/15/2007). A melodramatic but highly prejudiced “insider” account of how US intelligence personnel (CIA and other unsavory characters) and US Special Forces collaborated with local officials and military agents may be found in Mark Bowden’s narrative of the pursuit and killing of one ASG leader, Abu Sabaya, entitled “Jihadists in Paradise” (The Atlantic, March 2007; <http://www.theatlantic.com/>; for a corrective to Bowden’s racist-ethnocentric, perspective, see Jose Torres Jr, Into the Mountain: hostaged by the Abu Sayyaf. 2001).
Amid daily testimonies of the carnage and destruction affecting millions of inhabitants in the southern Philippines, progressive representatives in the Philippine Congress have urged a thorough probe into the permanent presence of US troops . Personalities such as Rep. Maria Climaco of Zamboanga City and Amina Rasul, lead convenor of the Philippine Council for Islam and Democracy, have also urged action to stop US meddling on behalf of the corrupt, bankrupt Arroyo despotism. BAYAN and other civil-society groups recently petitioned the Legislative Oversight Committee on the VFA to terminate all agreements allowing foreign troops (not only the US but also the Australians and other nationalities) interfering in the ongoing hostilities, thus violating the Philippine Constitution (News Release, 9/25/2008). They also demanded that the Department of National Defense and AFP arrange “the immediate pull-out of US troops and the dismantling of their facilities in Mindanao. However, unless millions of Filipinos commit open civil disobedience and paralyze traffic, business, and government operations–that is, unless massive “people power” erupts to protest the corruption, puppetry and criminality of the US-Arroyo regime–it is unlikely that the Arroyo clique and its American patrons would scrap the VFA and all other instruments of US control. Fighting in the jungles and countryside, in synchrony with parliamentary mass urban mobilizations, may have to accelerate until the comfortable lives of the elite and the complacent middle class becomes impossible to sustain.–###