Posts Tagged ‘RP-US VFA’


by the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan)

(in cooperation with InPeace Mindanao and  Karapatan)

June 9, 2010

Gregan Cardeño was recruited by a private military contractor to work as an interpreter for U.S. soldiers last February 1. On February 2, he was found dead, a day after he started work in a military facility in Marawi City. He was working with an elite unit of US Special Forces called Liaison Coordination Elements (LCE).

Less than two months later, Capt. Javier Ignacio of the Philippine Army – a friend who helped recruit Cardeño and was helping the family shed light on his death – was gunned down while he was on his way to a meeting with a human rights group conducting an independent investigation on the case.

These two deaths have been a cause of great concern among human rights groups for more than four months now, mostly due to apparent cover up and the continued silence and seeming disinterest of the Philippine government to investigate the case and seek justice for the untimely demise of Cardeño and Capt. Ignacio. Adding to the frustration of the family are the Philippine government’s and the U.S. military’s failure to disclose the real circumstances that may have been the reason for Cardeño’s death.
A simple case of suicide was how the Philippine police treated Cardeño’s death, but the distress calls his wife has received before his body was found raised doubts as to the true nature and manner of his death. Even the Commission on Human Rights’ independent investigation report was inconclusive.

The untimely death of Capt. Ignacio (and the death threats he has been receiving and attempts to bribe him prior to his death) fuels speculation that a cover-up was being done.

These incidents have also led to the discovery of questionable U.S. military facility in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur. Its presence, which heretofore was unknown, leads to questions on the United States’ plans to reestablish bases in the southern Philippines. What is the purpose of the military facility in Marawi City and why was it hidden from public knowledge? Why did the U.S. troops need the services of a
translator who could speak Bahasa?  What was Cardeño doing that caused him so much distress?

Beyond the need to take a more active role in the full and impartial investigation of the deaths of Cardeño and Capt. Ignacio, the next administration will ultimately have to deal with the question of expanded and continuing presence of U.S. troops in Mindanao and their costs.

I. Narrative of events

Thirty-three-year-old Gregan Cardeño signed on Jan. 30, 2010 a contract with Skylink Security and General Services, stating he would work as a security guard with the agency from Feb. 1 to April 30, 2010. The real nature of his employment, however, was as interpreter for US troops, subcontracted by the US manpower-providing firm Dyn Corporation.

Dyn Corporation

The Philippines is just one of the numerous countries in which DynCorp International has a presence. In an article for the March 2004 issue of Esquire, in which he described DynCorp as “an American firm that specializes in high-risk contract work for the Pentagon and the State Department,” conservative American journalist Tucker Carlson enumerated the other countries where DynCorp is present. Wrote Carlson:

“Pick an unsafe country and DynCorp is likely to be there. In Afghanistan, DynCorp bodyguards protect Hamid Karzai, the most imperiled president on earth. In Colombia, DynCorp pilots fly coca-killing crop dusters slow and low over drug plantations, an integral part of Washington’s Plan Colombia. DynCorp is in Kosovo, Israel (three of its employees were blown up and killed in Gaza last year), East Timor, Sarajevo, Saudi Arabia, the Philippines, Liberia, and many other sketchy places. Last spring, DynCorp – along with Kroll Inc. and as many as twenty other large private security companies, and perhaps dozens of smaller ones, employing tens of thousands of individual contractors – came to Iraq.”

In 2007, DynCorp was the subject of the Permanent People’s Tribunal (PPT) Session on Colombia. The indictment, prepared by the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective, cites DynCorp for its role in the commission of human-rights violations and crimes in Colombia, as well as other offenses in Nicaragua, Bosnia, Haiti, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Part of the indictment reads:

“Its presence in countries receiving US military assistance (either in low-intensity situations or in settings involving open US intervention) have produced important scandals, directly implicating the enterprise in the commission of crimes and human rights violations.

“For instance, in the 1980s the enterprise was implicated in the Iran-Contra scandal. In the 1990s, the enterprise became a fundamental component for the US intervention of Haiti. Lastly, DynCorp members in Bosnia were involved in the sexual trafficking of minors, but due to their immunity no one was ever tried before any court in the world.”

In Iraq, DynCorp has won several contracts amounting to $750 million for training police forces.

“Available information stresses that the Iraqi police, trained by private security enterprises like DynCorp, have become a key component in the current dirty war, rather than a foundation for democracy proclaimed by US authorities,” the indictment continues. “In fact, US federal investigators are examining reports of criminal fraud by DynCorp employees, including the sale of ammunition earmarked for the Iraqi police.”

In Afghanistan, aside from providing personal security for Karzai, it has trained police forces and has deployed 337 police advisers. In October 2004, one of Karzai’s security personnel from DynCorp aroused controversy after slapping the Afghan transport minister.

– from “What’s a Notorious US Military Contractor Doing Inside the AFP’s Camp in Zamboanga?” by Alexander Martin Remollino, Bulatlat.com, 12 September 2009

Cardeno was said to be fluent in several languages: aside from the national language, he also knew Tausug, Visayan, and Bahasa Indonesia.

He had learned about the job opening from his friend, Capt. Javier Ignacio of the Philippine Army.

Two days later, at about 6:45 am, his wife Myrna accompanied Cardeno to Edwin Andrews Air Base in Zamboanga City, from where he was to be flown to Cotabato City en route to Camp Sionco in Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao.

At around 7:48 am on Feb. 2, Cardeno’s sister Carivel received a message from his mobile phone saying he had instead been brought to Marawi City. When asked whether he was fine, he replied in the affirmative.

At 2:00 pm that same day, his tone had changed. “This is not the job I expected, this is so hard,” Cardeno told Carivel during a call. He sounded as though he was crying, and when asked what his actual job was, he could not reply. He asked Carivel to contact Skylink, ask for his salary, and request that he be pulled out of the US military facility where he had been assigned. He also said the only Filipinos working in the US military facility were himself and the cook, who goes home every afternoon. The call was then cut off.

Two hours later, he called Myrna and said, “I’m in Marawi, they brought me here… I’m in a very difficult situation.” She advised him to return home anytime the following day to Zamboanga Sibugay, where they live. After that the call was cut.

Later that day Cardeno called Myrna again, asking, “If ever I go home, would you still accept me?”

“Why?” Myrna replied. “Did you do anything wrong?”

The line went dead.

At around 2:00 pm the next day, Carivel received a call from Cardeno’s mobile phone and was surprised to hear a different voice from the other end. It was an SPO3 Ali Guibon Rangiris of the Marawi City Police Station, informing her that Gregan had hung himself with a bed sheet at the barracks of the Philippine Army’s 103rd Infantry Brigade at Camp Ranao, Brgy. Datu Saber, Marawi City. SPO3 Rangiris also told Carivel the US troops were preparing to transport Gregan’s body to Zamboanga.

The helicopter carrying the corpse arrived at Edwin Andrews Air Base at around 4:00 pm that same day. His relatives, however, were barred from claiming the body there, and were instead advised to later view it at the La Merced Memorial Homes in Zamboanga City.

The cadaver was brought to La Merced without the required certificate of clearance from the appropriate government agency and death certificate from the Office of the Civil Registrar. Instead, a physician from the Philippine National Police (PNP) Regional Office in Zamboanga City, Dr. Rodolfo Valmoria, conducted a post-mortem examination.

As the family observed, the body was not yet in rigor mortis though they had been informed Cardeno had been dead for 16 hours. They also noticed that the area around his upper body was filled with ice.

That same day, the Marawi City Police Station reported on the incident, by radio, to the Lanao del Sur Provincial Police Office. The report identified Gregan’s assignment as a unit of the US military known as Liaison Coordination Elements (LCEs) based in Camp Ranao.

LCEs

In an article for the November-December 2006 issue of Military Review, “Anatomy of a Successful COIN Operation: OEF-Philippines and the Indirect Approach,” then-Col. Gregory Wilson of the US Army explained the work of LCEs as follows:

“Deployed at the tactical level, SF advisory teams called liaison coordination elements (LCE) are small, tailored, autonomous teams of special operations personnel from all services. They advise and assist select AFP units in planning and fusing all sources of intelligence in support of operations directed at insurgent-terrorist organizations. LCEs conduct decentralized planning and execution using a robust reachback capability to the JSOTF-P to leverage additional assets in support of AFP operations. These assets range from intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets such as tactical unmanned aerial vehicles to humanitarian assistance to tailored information products.”

In one of his footnotes to the article, Wilson said LCEs “generally consist of 4 to 12 SF advisers who are embedded with select AFP ground, naval, and air forces down to the battalion level.”

At around 8:00 pm on Feb. 5, Carivel called SPO3 Rangiris, who this time contradicted his earlier statement saying Cardeno was actually found lying on the floor and when his body was found, the area was already contaminated.

Four days later, Cardeno’s sister Grace called Capt. Mike Kay, team leader of the US troops in Camp Ranao, and inquired about his death. Captain Kay replied that his colleagues had contributed money and asked how they can send it, saying further that they intended to send it the next day.

On Feb. 11, at around 3:00 pm, Cardeno’s relatives went to the headquarters of the Western Command at Upper Calarian, Zamboanga City and had a dialogue with US officers identified only as Captain Boyer and Master Sergeant Gines regarding his employment status with the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines. Captain Boyer said Skylink should open dialogue with them after Gregan’s burial.

On Feb. 13, Dr. Atanasius Rufon of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) did an autopsy on Gregan’s body as the family requested.

That same day, Commission on Human Rights (CHR) investigators Raul Quiboyen and Reymundo Ituralde arrived in Ipil and asked Gregorio Cardeño, a relative of Gregan, to sign a complaint form.

Gregan was buried on Feb. 15 at the Ipil Public Cemetery.

On March 4, Gregan’s relatives received the autopsy results.

Two days later, they approached CHR Chairwoman Leila de Lima for help and asked for a re-autopsy, which request was approved.

That same day, Judge Advocate General Office (JAGO) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) personnel went to the NBI-Zamboanga office. The JAGO personnel ordered the latter to investigate the case.

According to Faruk Batara of CHR-Iligan City, FBI personnel went to Marawi City and conducted investigation on the case.

The CHR, through Dr. Joseph Jimenez, conducted the re-autopsy on March 25.

On that same day he was expected to join the Cardeno family and a delegation from Karapatan, Cardeño family friend Captain Javier Ignacio was shot dead by four men riding on separate motorcycles. Before that, Captain Ignacio had been talking to the Cardeños and helping in the investigation. He had also met with representatives of Karapatan. He had been receiving death threats and was also subjected to an attempt to bribe him into silence. Captain Ignacio appeared to have information on the movement and activities of the US troops and how this was related to the death of Gregan.

II. Analysis and demands

The autopsies conducted on Gregan’s body affirm asphyxia as the cause of death, but are inconclusive as to the manner of death.

There are several circumstances that point to possible attempts at a cover-up: the inconsistencies in SPO3 Rangiris’s statements, the refusal of Edwin Andrews Air Base personnel to let the relatives claim the cadaver there, and the refusals of Captains Kay and Boyer and Master Sergeant Gines to answer questions pertaining to Cardeno’s employment and demise.

The killing of Captain Ignacio further fuels suspicions that a cover-up is being perpetrated. Having been an officer of the AFP’s Military Police, he appeared to have relevant information on the circumstances behind Gregan’s death. Ignacio was personally helping in the investigation and had been talking to Cardeno’s relatives and to representatives of Karapatan before he was killed. Who would benefit from his silence?

Arousing more suspicion is the fact that the US FBI has stepped into the investigation of the case. Is the Philippine government aware of the FBI’s involvement in the probe? Why is the FBI even involved in a supposedly domestic incident, unless there may have been involvement of US troops in Cardeno’s death?

Based on the calls Cardeno made and the text messages he sent to his wife and relatives during his two days on the job, he clearly wanted out of his work. It is also interesting to note that all messages contained in Cardeno’s phone were mysteriously erased before the family arrived to retrieve the body, according to their account.

It was already public knowledge that US troops had facilities located within Camp Navarro, Edwin Andrews Air Base, and Camp Malagutay, all in Zamboanga City; Camp Bautista in Jolo Island, Sulu; Camp Sionco in Maguindanao; and the Philippine Naval Station in Panglima Sugala, Tawi-Tawi. The deployment of the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P) can also be seen in their official website. Former Navy Lt. Senior Grade Nancy Gadian also revealed in her testimony the extent of operations of the US forces in Mindanao.

It was only through Cardeno’s death that we learned of the existence of a unit of the US military based in Marawi. From what we know of the nature of this unit, the LCE, we fear that it may be a combat unit operating outside the purview of the VFA and in violation of the Constitution. It is important that the public be made aware of the possible clandestine operations US forces are conducting in our country, in violation of our laws.

There are also questions as to the US forces’ engagement of Filipinos for undisclosed operations or work, via private military contractors and local sub-contractors, to avoid any public accountability. What does Dyn Corporation really do in the country? What about their sub-contractors like Skylink? What kind of operations do they run? How are they aiding the US military presence in the country?

There are also questions as to whether there was adequate response of the Philippine government to the death of a Filipino inside an American military facility, and employed though indirectly, by the US military. Could a deeper probe have been conducted, instead of declaring the case closed by simply ruling it a suicide? Did the Philippine government even inquire what Cardeno was doing in Marawi? Or is there a presumption of regularity because those involved are US troops? Is not the Philippine government duty-bound to investigate on the circumstances of Cardeno’s death?

The deaths of Cardeno and Ignacio should spur the Philippine government to review the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) that allows US military presence on Philippine soil. This is just the latest of many incidents involving the US forces in Mindanao. The mysterious and possibly related deaths of Cardeno and Ignacio prompt us to ask these questions to the outgoing and incoming administrations.

We demand the following:

l    A full and impartial investigation into Cardeno’s death by the Legislative Oversight Committee on the Visiting Forces Agreement (LOVFA) and other relevant agencies. The probe should also review the response undertaken by the Philippine government and US troops with regards to the Cardeño death.

l    A probe into the presence of US troops in Marawi and other areas where they may be conducting clandestine operations. A disclosure of the real nature of the LCE’s deployed in Mindanao.

l    Full disclosure of the nature of  the Philippine operations of private military contractor Dyn Corp and its subcontractor Skylink. They should clarify the real nature of Cardeno’s work in Marawi. A congressional probe can also be undertaken to examine the work being done by Dyn Corp in our country, given that it is known to be present in areas where there are armed conflicts involving US troops.

l    An independent probe into the death of Captain Javier Ignacio.

l    The review and abrogation of the VFA.

References

1.     Contract of Service between Thomas P. Rivera III and Gregan Cardeño, executed Jan. 30, 2010

2.     Fact Sheet No. 2010-002, Kawagib (Alliance for the Advancement of Moro and Lumad Rights), prepared by Bai Ali Indayla, Feb. 23, 2010

3.     Transcript of radio message from Marawi City Police Station to Lanao del Sur Provincial Police Office, Feb. 3, 2010

4.     Gregory Wilson, “Anatomy of a Successful COIN Operation: OEF-Philippines and the Indirect Approach,” Military Review, November-December 2006

5.     Alexander Martin Remollino, “What’s a Notorious US Military Contractor Doing Inside the AFP’s Camp in Zamboanga?” Bulatlat.com, Sept. 12, 2009

6.     Alexander Martin Remollino, “US Troops in Philippines: America Pursues Expansionism, Protects Economic Interests,” Bulatlat.com, August 28, 2009

7.     JSOTF-P Fact Sheet, http://jsotf-p.blogspot.com/2009/04/jsotf-p-fact-sheet.html (accessed June 4, 2010)

Renato M. Reyes, Jr.

BAYAN Secretary General

Submitted to the Legislative Oversight Committee on the VFA

September 25, 2008

The Bagong Alyansang Makabayan has from the onset been opposed to the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement because it violates the Philippines’ sovereignty and justifies the prolonged presence of foreign troops on Philippine soil despite the absence of any basing treaty.

The VFA, as it is implemented today, practically reverses many of the victories in the struggle to remove foreign bases from the Philippines.

The VFA does not specify or limit the number of US troops allowed entry into the Philippines. The numbers can range from 10 to 1000 and beyond.

The VFA does not specify or limit the areas in the Philippines that the “visiting” troops can access. With the broadness of the agreement, US troops can access military camps, civilian facilities and even areas of actual armed conflict such as Sulu or Basilan.

The VFA does not specify or limit the duration of the stay of the “visiting” US forces. It is so broad and vague that it allows the continuing, even if rotational, presence of US troops in the Philippines.

The VFA does not specify or limit the activities being undertaken by the “visiting” US forces. The VFA does not explicitly prohibit activities that violate the constitution, such as direct combat involvement of US forces. Neither does the VFA set a limit on the number of activities, including joint exercises and other “approved” activities, that could take place within a year.

The VFA is simply too broad and too vague when it comes to the treatment of “visiting” US forces such that it can mean the US can deploy an unlimited number of troops, for an unspecified duration, anywhere in the Philippines, for a broad range of activities, that may not be limited to “exercises”.

Since the “visiting” US troops are not required to present visas like any other visiting foreigner, there is really no way of telling how long they stay, when they leave and when they return.

Permanent presence

One case that the Philippine Senate can look into is that of the presence of the Joint Special Operations Task Force – Philippines based in Zamboanga. This unit of the US Special Forces under the Pacific Command had its origins as part of the Joint Task Force 510 of the US Special Operations Command Pacific during the Balikatan 02-1. When the JTF 510’s mission ended in July 2002, it transitioned to the JSOTF-Philippines. It currently maintains its headquarters inside Camp Navarro of the WESTMINCOM of the AFP in Zamboanga. This unit of the US Special Forces has remained in Mindanao since 2002.

It is our view that the JSOTF-Philippines based in Zamboanga fits the description of what the US military calls a Forward Operating Site. The JSOTF-P headquarters inside Camp Navarro acts as a Forward Operating Site that has a small permanent presence and can support sustained operations. This facility can host a rotational force and pre-positioned equipment. The FOS is often associated with bilateral and regional training exercises and activities.

The JSOTF-P occupies a facility that was described by a Mindanao-based human rights group as being “sealed by walls, concertina wire, and sandbags. The actual size of the area could not immediately be seen from the outside. Their communication facilities (satellite dishes, antenna, and other instruments) are visible.”

That the JSOTF-P hosts a rotational force is confirmed by no less than Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita who recently said that the US troops are NOT overstaying, and that they simply come and go, one batch leaves when another batch enters.

While the AFP and other government officials, and even the US embassy, will argue that the US forces are not setting up permanent bases in Zamboanga, we believe this is no longer the critical point. The US, based on its own defense posture review, does not intend to put up the traditional bases akin to Subic and Clark. The thrust is to have as many Cooperative Security Locations and Forward Operating Sites which are more flexible, cheaper to maintain, concealed and thereby less prone to controversy and protest.

While the Arroyo government can argue that the structures are “temporary”, we can also argue that these structures have been “permanently occupied” since 2002. The presence of the US troops, even if on a rotational basis, has become permanent. The structures in Camp Navarro have been ‘permanently occupied’ by the US forces, 365 days a year for almost six years now.

There are several “exercises” and activities between US and RP forces throughout the year, all of which are said to be approved by the Mutual Defense Board. However, there have been many conflicting statements from the AFP and other government officials on whether or not the present batch of US forces in Mindanao are covered by any joint exercise.

Again, the VFA does not provide the Philippine government with a means to ascertain the length of stay of these troops and the activities they are associated with.

The JSOTF-P Headquarters in Zamboanga is also made possible by the RP-US Mutual Logistics Support Agreement, a pact that compliments the VFA by providing logistical support for the “visiting” US troops. The MLSA was signed as a 5-year executive agreement in 2002 and was recently renewed in November 2007. The reasons for the renewal, and the review process that should have preceded it, were not made public by the Department of National Defense, AFP or Department of Foreign Affairs. It is not known if other branches of government were consulted in extending the MLSA.

The AFP should disclose the terms under which the JSOTF-P headquarters in Camp Navarro operates.

1. Is the JSOTF-P covered by the MLSA? What are the terms and conditions for the operations of these US-occupied facilities? Are there existing records and documents covering the past six years? How are Philippine laws even applicable to these US military facilities?

2. Who pays for the costs of hosting the foreign troops in Camp Navarro? What are the terms of payment? Up to what extent is the Philippine government obliged to support the stay of the US troops?

3. Does the AFP exercise authority over the JSOTF-P headquarters? In what way?

4. What is the area covered by the headquarters? Are the headquarters ever vacant? If so, are they ever dismantled?

5. Aside from living quarters, what other facilities are the US being allowed to set up inside the JSOTF-P headquarters? Does this include communication facilities, surveillance and spy facilities, and others of similar nature? Given the prolonged presence of US troops in Mindanao, does this not already go beyond what is contemplated into VFA and MLSA.

It is also relevant to ask why the MLSA was renewed without even informing the public, maybe even the Senate, as to the evaluation of its implementation from 2002-07. What were the circumstances and arguments used to justify the extension? Or was the extension a done deal motivated by the need to provide a legal framework for the ‘permanently occupied’ facilities by the overstaying US troops in Mindanao.

We ask these questions in the face of reports that the JSOTF headquarters have acquired a function that is already against the Constitution. The prolonged presence of the US troops and the structures that they have occupied show the flaws in the VFA and the MLSA. The US forces are taking advantage of the grey areas in these agreements to violate Philippine sovereignty.

Combat involvement

Bayan takes note of the high probability as well as existing accounts that the US forces are engaged in combat operations.

The United States Institute for Peace, a US government funded institution, describes the role of the US forces deployed in Mindanao in its February 2008 report. The deployment of US forces in Mindanao was not for humanitarian missions or civic actions, but for specific military objectives.

“In the aftermath of 9/11, the United States grew particularly concerned that Mindanao could become a training ground and sanctuary for international terrorists. This concern led to expanded U.S. military assistance to the Philippine government and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). U.S. military assets were deployed in the southern Philippines to assist efforts to pursue groups designated as international terrorists, including members of the Indonesian Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and the local Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).”

The description of the role of the US forces was not limited to merely “training” Filipino troops. The term used in the report was “assistance” which could also mean directly participating in tactical operations and missions in differing capacities.

The report further stated that “American targets also included so-called MILF lost commands, who were linked to terrorism. American Special Forces under the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P) established expanded counterterrorism operations, providing the AFP with intelligence, training, and weaponry. The objective was to assist the AFP in its efforts to reform, modernize, and enhance its ability to fight terrorist groups.”

The USIP also noted that “U.S. policy instruments in Mindanao include diplomacy, conditionality of U.S. economic and military assistance programs, and more punitive measures on the counterterrorism front.”

What does the US mean by employing “punitive measures” against terrorists? Why are US forces allowed military “targets”? Are such actions even covered by the VFA, the Mutual Defense Treaty or even the newly-conceived Security Engagement Board which is said to also operate under the mandate of the VFA?

Because of the US forces’ proximity to the armed conflict, this makes them more likely to engage in actual combat than if they were in other parts of the country.

Balikatan 02-1 was the turning point in the transition from “exercises” to direct combat role for the US forces. The Balikatan at the time was held in Basilan, with the expressed military objective of assisting and training the AFP in the efforts against the Abu Sayyaf (Balikatan 02-1 TOR).

The Balikatan 02-1 Terms of Reference was drafted to assuage fears that the US would engage in actual combat in Mindanao. However, subsequent events showed the opposite.

In 2002, the International Solidarity Mission reported the shooting of Buyong-buyong Isnijal, a civilian suspected of being an ASG member, by US troops on combat patrol in Basilan. The US and Philippine authorities of course denied that US soldiers were part of the team that shot Isnijal inside his house.

In February 4, 2008, US forces were said to be embedded in an AFP unit that conducted a military operation in Maimbung, Sulu that resulted in the deaths of seven civilians. This included two children, two teenagers, a pregnant woman and an off-duty soldier.

It is not clear if the Balikatan 02-1 terms of reference were used in succeeding military exercises after 2002 or if there are any “terms of reference” being employed in the current activities of the US forces in Mindanao. As far as we know, the 2002 TOR was only for the duration of the 02-1 activity.

Intelligence gathering as a combat role

The AFP has admitted that the US troops are engaged in intelligence work, especially against military targets such as the Abu Sayyaf, so-called terrorist groups and the so-called “rogue” MILF units.

The National Union of Peoples Lawyers has described the “intelligence gathering” operations of the US forces as being part and essential to actual combat operations. “They(US troops) are part of the hostilities because they provide intelligence and support to the AFP against the MILF. Since US troops are involved in intelligence gathering, they are therefore part of the combat operations, and the claim that they are not involved in combat operations is not only misleading but is an outright lie,” says the NUPL.

It is noteworthy to ask what parameters are observed in allowing foreign troops to conduct actual surveillance and intelligence operations on the local populace. The power to spy on the people can easily be abused, especially since existing agreements are silent on this aspect of US military involvement. If we are against the notion that we’re being spied upon by the local authorities, then all the more should we oppose the notion that foreign troops are given a free pass to conduct intelligence operations against Filipinos.

The use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) by US forces has been well-documented in Mindanao. In February 2006, the Mindanao Examiner reported that a UAV crashed in Jolo. In March 2002, a Predator-type drone crashed in the sea off Zamboanga City. In November 2005, an unmanned spy plane reportedly crashed in Mount Tumatangis in Jolo.

The same news report said that “the US military has a fleet of various unmanned spy planes, from a palm-size remote-controlled aircraft, to bigger and sophisticated high-altitude; long-range remotely piloted vehicles designed for long-endurance photographic reconnaissance and electronic surveillance missions, and as attack aircrafts.”

The AFP tried to explain the presence of the spy planes. “There is nothing to fear about the US drone. It is being used to survey areas where humanitarian activities will be jointly undertaken by US and Philippine troops,” Maj. Gamal Hayudini, a spokesman for the Southern Command, told the Zamboanga Journal. This is obviously a big lie and a cover up.

We thus ask the following questions: Who really controls the surveillance equipment? Who authorizes its use? Who are the targets? Does the use of UAV’s controlled by US forces violate our sovereignty, even if such actions are done with the complicity of the AFP?

We also raise the alarm on the use of these UAV’s because it is well known that these drones are not just limited to spying. They can also be used as offensive weapons, as in the case of US forces in Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan. Who will then prevent the US forces from training their UAV’s on local targets?

The US has heretofore established a stable presence in Mindanao. What other surveillance and intelligence equipment are being utilized by the US forces in Mindanao? Are there similar intel and surveillance facilities present in the JSOTF-P headquarters? Who authorizes their use? Under what terms? Is the US already operating “listening posts” in these facilities, with or without the knowledge of the AFP?

“Humanitarian missions”

The term “humanitarian mission” and “civic actions” have become the standard response of both the AFP and the US embassy every time US forces figure in incidents that are not covered by the VFA, such as operating spy planes, or being part of an AFP military convoy that was ambushed by rebels.

What really are these “humanitarian missions”? What is their role relative to the US forces presence in the country?

These civic activities are all part of the “communications strategy” being employed by the US to justify their continued presence in the country. This much is admitted by their own documents, such as ANNEX A, Strategic Communication, USPACOM Pacific Joint Training Strategy.

Such activities are undertaken “to educate elected officials, opinion leaders and the public on the importance of military training; build public trust and support of training activities; portray the cost of readiness and potential impact of not being ready…and highlight the military as good stewards of the environment.”

The document further states that “Military participation in school activities (reading weeks, career fairs, etc) is a highly effective community relations tool at the “grass roots” level.”

Humanitarian missions are not the main activities of US Special Forces in Mindanao. They are merely part of a “communications strategy” that is subsumed to strategic US military thrusts.

In the US Pacific Command Joint Training Strategy 2007, the umbrella plan for activities such as the Balikatan, it stated that “the overarching goal of the Pacific Joint Training Strategy is to ensure U.S. forces are ready to respond promptly and effectively to any and all contingencies that may confront our nation.”

It would perhaps be naïve to think that the US Special Forces certainly came to the Philippines to play doctor and dentist. They have clear strategic military objectives along the lines of securing US political and military interests.


Observations

It has been 9 years since the VFA came into effect. During this period, especially from 2002 to the present, various questionable activities involving American troops have taken place. It has become difficult to call attention to these so-called “illegal” activities because the VFA itself is full of loop-holes and vague provisions.

There is also the observation that the AFP has taken on the role of interpreting foreign policy and the application of relevant treaties and agreements.

For the above reasons, we urge the Senate to terminate the RP-US VFA. In the short term, we ask the Legislative Oversight Committee on the VFA to direct the DND and AFP to cause the immediate pull-out of American troops in Mindanao and the dismantling of all their existing facilities. We urge the LOCVFA to compel the DND and AFP to make public all terms of reference on US military activities and facilities in Mindanao.