Some 33 cables from the US embassy in Manila were released today by Wikileaks. Here are three of the more interesting cables that deal with US counter-terror efforts in the country and the region. The cables give us a glimpse of the real intent of the US government when they invoke regional security against terorrism. One cable tells us that the US is proposing the setting-up of dual-use facilities in Mindanao. Another tells us of a US proposal for an integrated maritime surveillance system in Southeast Asia.
Terror law after Bali Bombing
The US was closely monitoring and keenly interested in the passage of the Philippines anti-terror law, especially in the aftermath of the Bali bombing in 2005. The particular cable sent on October 2, 2005 was described as “sensitive” but “unclassified”. It said that “in the aftermath of the October 1 bombings in Bali, Indonesia, Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo expressed her condolences to the victims’ families…and urged swift passage of an anti-terrorism bill by Congress”.
The cable also noted that then DILG secretary Angelo Reyes warned that there was “clear and present danger” of a terrorist attack but did not provide specifics. The cable also noted the passage of the House version of the anti-terror law at the committee level, as well as the assurance from then Senate President Franklin Drilon that the anti-terror law will be passed. However, the US embassy also said that the bill has “many hoops to go through before possible final approval”.
US security interest in Southeast Asia
In a cable dated August 27, 2007 by US ambassador to the Philippines Kristie Kenney, the US embassy in Manila expressed support for funding for fiscal year 2008 under Section 1206 of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2006. This Security Assistance Program allows the US Department of Defense to spend up to $200 million dollars to train and equip foreign militaries to undertake counterterrorism or stability operations. The program is deemed important in helping countries like the Philippines build capacity to help fight the “war on terror”.
The endorsement for the program was made by the US embassies in Manila, Jakarta,Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Phnom Penh, Dhaka and Colombo. The cable said that in 2007, the US had developed the capacity to protect the area from Sulu and Sulawesi Seas in the border region shared by the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia. “This area is a priority in the war against terrorism in Southeast Asia,” the cable said. It should be noted that there are US troops based in Zamboanga and Sulu.
The US hopes to establish “a seamless interface among their respective maritime security efforts”. Part of the efforts would be to make use of US military exercises in the region such as the ones hosted by the Philippines under the Visiting Forces Agreement. “Our proposal maximizes the use of existing U.S. military exercises in the region, as well as initiatives managed by other agencies. We have worked closely with USPACOM, Special Operations Command Pacific, U.S. Pacific Fleet, Joint Interagency Task Force West (JIATF-W) and other commands to ensure that PACOM planners understand our 1206 objectives and develop realistic scenarios in future exercises that will help host nations test and improve their new capabilities,” the US embassy in Manila said.
The US embassy in Manila also proposed an elaborate regional surveillance network both land and sea-based to further advance US maritime security efforts. “Our proposal emphasizes the installation of land-based and sea-based maritime radars and other types of surveillance and identification equipment in the tri-border area of Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines and other key points between Sri Lanka and the Philippines to monitor vessels suspected of carrying terrorists, weapons, or drugs, as well as engaging in human trafficking and other illegal activities”.
At the end of the cable, it is still the US’ own strategic objectives which are paramount when it comes to the issue of “regional security”. The funding will be used as leverage by the US to influence the regional counter-terror policies. “Protecting the waters in South and South East Asia and stopping the terrorist groups operating there are vital U.S. interests. Assisting countries in the region to work together to counter threats is a long-term objective. The FY07 1206 proposal gives countries in the region capabilities they do not presently have to wage the War on Terror and affords the United States unique opportunities to influence the shape of a regional counter terrorism strategy,” the cable said.
Philippines focal point of US counter-terror efforts
In an earlier cable dated April 4. 2007, the US embassy again stressed the need for US funding for counter-terror efforts.
“The Philippines is currently the focal point of our counterterrorism fight in the region. The Armed Forces of the Philippines has scored significant victories during its ongoing campaign on the island of Jolo against Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiyah terrorists. With U.S. help, Philippine troops have overrun terrorist training camps and conducted successful operations that led to the deaths of Khadaffy Janjalani and Abu Solaiman, the top two leaders of the Abu Sayyaf Group. Our $10 million Philippine 1207 initiative would build upon existing U.S. Agency for International Development and Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines activity to improve dual-use infrastructure on the islands of Jolo and the neighboring island of Tawi-Tawi, where we have made significant gains in separating the terrorists from the population,” the cable said.
The embassy proposed 5 priority projects that have “dual use”, meaning both civilian and military use. Some of the proposed infrastructure were tailor-made for use by US military aircraft. Others had clear counter-insurgency uses. The cable lists down the five projects as:
Jolo Airport: A $3 million expansion project would lengthen the current runway from 1500 meters to 2000 meters, giving it increased capacity to handle civilian and military (both U.S. and Philippine Air Force) aircraft, such as Boeing 737s and C-130s.
Tawi-Tawi Airport: A similar $3 million expansion project would give this airport the same expanded dual-use capability.
Tawi-Tawi Bridge: This $3 million project would construct a bridge and approach roads that would link Tawi-Tawi and Sanga-Sanga, the two main islands of the Tawi-Tawi group. The project would also enable the Armed Forces of the Philippines to shift forces by land from Sanga-Sanga to Tawi-Tawi, an operation it is now only able to conduct by sea, in order to eliminate terrorist safe havens and transit areas from this heretofore inaccessible area.
Security Force Train-and-Equip Package: $300,000 in funds under the supervision of the resident U.S. Senior Law Enforcement Advisor would allow us to train and equip port and airport security personnel in Zamboanga and the Sulu Archipelago to screen cargo and passengers and respond to potential terrorist threats.
Jolo Water Distribution System: $700,000 would allow Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines to complete a badly needed water distribution project in Jolo City, the largest municipality on the island that would provide its residents potable drinking water.
The setting up of dual-use facilities for US troops is a relatively new development after the US bases in the Philippines were closed down in 1991.
The proposal to have infrastructure with “dual use” allows the US troops in Mindanao more maneuverability. It is part of the US forward deployment strategy here in the Philippines. In US military parlance, these facilities are called cooperative security locations, having little or no US personnel present and can host prepositioned equipment and provide ready access for US troops
The US ‘war on terror’ has allowed the US troops permanent basing in the Philippines even without an actual basing treaty, effectively violating provisions of the Philippine constitution. February 2012 marks 10 years of the US troop’s permanent and continuing presence in Mindanao. This goes beyond what the VFA itself contemplates.The VFA has been vague to the point of being used to justify the indifinite stay of foreign troops in our country. ###