September 6, 2008
The umbrella group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, through its lawyers, will question the presence of “overstaying US troops” during the scheduled oral arguments before the Supreme Court in the group’s petition against the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement. The petition questioning the constitutionality of the treaty was filed last year and is scheduled for oral arguments on September 19.
Apart from the issues of custody arising from the Subic Rape case, Bayan said that it also plans to question the “duration and scope of the seemingly permanent presence of US troops in Mindanao.”
“The continuing presence of US troops in various parts of Mindanao already goes beyond what the Philippine Senate contemplated as ‘temporary’ during its deliberations on the VFA in 1999. The Senate deliberations defined ‘temporary’ as being about six months. The US troops have been in Mindanao for six years,” said Bayan secretary general Renato M. Reyes, Jr.
Bayan pointed to the VFA as the culprit on why US troops have overstayed in Mindanao.
“The problem with the VFA is that it does not define in clear and uncertain terms the scope, duration of stay and the extent of the engagement of US troops. In some ways, it is worse than the previous US bases agreement because of its vagueness. For all intents and purposes, an unlimited number of US troops can stay here for an unlimited period of time, even if there are no joint military exercises,” Reyes said.
“If that isn’t virtual basing, then what is?” Reyes asked.
The militant group looked back at the so-called Terms of Reference during the first Balikatan 02-1 which saw the first batch of US troops enter areas like Zamboanga and Sulu and paved the way for their continued stay in the region.
“Even the Terms of Reference of the Balikatan 02-1 was vague. It did not define the length of stay nor did it give assurances that the US troops will not engage in actual combat operations. That is why we have US troops embedded in AFP combat units who are involved in actual combat operations, in clear violation of the Constitution,” Reyes said.
Bayan also said that “informal basing structures” were being created under the RP-US Mutual Logistics Agreement, a complimentary arrangement with the VFA.
The MLSA allows US troop’s use of Philippine facilities for whatever purposes they have during their stay here. The agreement was renewed last year after five years in effect.
The establishment of the headquarters of the Joint Special Operations Task Force Philippines (JSOTFP) inside Camp Don Basilio Navarro, the air asset facility inside the Zamboanga City International Airport, a docking area at the Majini Pier inside the Naval Forces Western Mindanao Command, and the training facility inside Camp Arturo Enrile in Malagutay village are all made possible under the “quasi-basing agreement” known as the MLSA according to Bayan.
Bayan said that its researchers in Mindanao complained that the areas and facilities occupied by the US troops are “off-limits to Filipinos”. Even the taking of pictures is not allowed, the researchers said.
“The VFA and the MLSA are twin agreements which re-established US military presence in the country after the US bases treaty rejection of 1991. It’s as if the Americans never left Subic and Clark. These agreements violate the Philippine constitution and the nation’s sovereignty,” Reyes said.
Bayan challenged the Senate to exercise its oversight functions and immediately probe the presence of the US troops in Mindanao. “We challenge the Senate to conduct an on-site inspection of the facilities being set up by the US troops to see if the sovereignty of the Philippines in still in effect over those areas,” the Bayan leader added. ###