Posts Tagged ‘US bases’

Newport News Shipbuilding Aerial

A private defense contractor has posted the first US Navy-related job opening in 20 years in Subic, Zambales, Philippines. From the job description, it appears that US warships will be frequenting the former US naval base. The position of project manager is open only to US citizens and requires a Secret-level security clearance and about 15 years experience in the US Navy.

Umbrella group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN), who campaigned for the rejection of the US bases in 1991, says the private contractors are being used to circumvent the Philippine constitutional ban on US bases by making it appear that military operations are mere commercial transactions. US warships, including an advanced nuclear attack submarine, have had frequent port calls in the Philippines this year.

USS New YorkThe job opening was issued by AMSEC, a subsidiary of private military contractor Huntington Ingalls Industries which is the biggest builder of nuclear and non-nuclear ships for the US Navy and Coast Guard. AMSEC is in partnership with Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction Philippines to provide maintenance, repair and logistics services to the U.S. Navy and other customers in the western Pacific region.

“For more than a century, HII has built more ships in more ship classes than any other U.S. naval shipbuilder,” HII’s website says.

“This is a part-time position with a focus on growing U.S. Navy and Military Sealift Command maintenance work at a commercial ship construction ship yard. Work hours are expected to grow as maintenance work increases, and occasional travel to the U.S. or Singapore may be required,” the AMSEC job placement says.

From this ad, it appears that the US is serious in using Subic for its warships. In a subtle way, the US is transforming a civilian facility back into a military hub through the use of private defense contractors. The use of these contractors to provide logistics and other support services for US warships may also be intended to circumvent the Constitutional ban on US bases absent a treaty ratified by the Senate. US bases were kicked out from the Philippines in 1991 and both the US and PH governments are careful not to indicate that they intend to bring back the bases now.

Instead of the US Navy itself that operates maintenance and logistics support services, they get a private contractor to do it so it won’t be so obvious that the US bases are back.

The US would make it appear that these are mere commercial transactions between the US Navy and private firms, but there is no mistaking the military character of the operations that will be conducted in Subic. The high-level security clearance and lengthy US navy experience required for the position of AMSEC project manager shows the sensitive nature of the job. The private contractor HII is the biggest producer of US nuclear and non-nuclear warships.

It won’t be long before full-blown logistics and servicing operations for US navy warships are conducted in Subic.

According to the job advertisement a successful candidate will have “a thorough knowledge of U.S. Navy readiness organizations, budgets, and leaders; a familiarity with surface ship maintenance industry competitors; and an in-depth knowledge of U.S. Navy contracts and programs. The candidate will participate in assessing shipyard repair capability, development of the strategy to grow this capability, and then drive the execution of the strategy”.

This is not the first time private military contractors have operated in the Philippines. DynCorp, a logistics provider for the US military has done work in the past for US military facilities in the Philippines, including the building of US forward bases in Mindanao. A DynCorp subsidiary recruited Filipino translator Gregan Cardeno, who later died under mysterious circumstances a day after he started work with US troops in Marawi province in Mindanao. The notorious Blackwater private military contractor was also reported by media to be operating out of Subic in the past. Private contractor Corporate Training Unit, an affiliate of Kellogg, Brown and Root (KBR)-Haliburton meanwhile operated in the former Clark Airbase.

Privatize military contractors make the US government a bit removed from any direct accountability to the Philippine government. They however remain part of the US military machinery and we may be seeing their increasing involvement in the Philippines as the US shifts most of its warships to Asia in the next ten years. ###

See links below


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. ###

Malacanang should move to cancel all upcoming joint military exercises and ongoing US military operations while the review of the Visiting Forces Agreement is ongoing.

If Malacanang is saying that there are questionable or problematic provisions in the agreement, why allow US troops unhampered entry into the country?

Executive Secretary Jojo Ochoa has been quoted as saying the Palace review of the VFA will focus on the provisions on custody of erring US troops. This was spurred by the Philippine’s experience with the case of US Marine Daniel Smith who was accused of rape, convicted by a regional trial court, detained in a Philippine facility then transferred to the US embassy.

The Supreme Court ruled that such transfer was not in accordance with the VFA. However, before the matter could be fully resolved, before the Philippine government complied with the court ruling, Smith was acquitted by the Court of Appeals. The Philippine government under Gloria Macapagal Arroyo did not show any signs that it would comply with the SC order to begin with. When Smith was acquitted, the Philippine government asked the court to declare the issue of custody moot.

On a side note, the person who maneuvered to have Smith transferred to the US embassy, Alberto Romulo,  was reappointed as DFA Secretary under Aquino.

Mr. Ochoa has said that the VFA provisions on custody are problematic. He worried that should a similar incident such as the Subic rape case happen, there would again be legal controversies.

This is why we believe that while the review is ongoing, ALL joint exercises and ALL US military operations in the country should be cancelled. What is the sense of allowing US military operations to continue when we know that when violations happen, the Philippines will again be at the losing end? How do we prevent a repeat of the humiliating experience we suffered in the Smith case?

Should there be another violation of Philippine law how will the Aquino government react? How do we ensure our national interests are upheld given the problematic VFA provisions on custody?

We can’t. The VFA was designed such that US troops will always be given special treatment. This alone is reason enough for the government to suspend all US military operations in the Philippines. This should include the operations of the Joint Special Operations Task Force – Philippines based in Zamboanga and other areas in Mindanao. These overstaying troops have a streak of violations, gross misconduct and disrespect for Philippine laws.

The US recently held the annual Cooperation and Afloat Readiness Training exercises involving US warships like the USS Essex and USS Halsey. This activity was part of the “US power-projection” meant to strengthen US control and influence in the region.

But what happens after the VFA provisions on custody are resolved? Will that make the VFA more palatable?

We believe that the VFA is beyond redemption. It is not just the provision on custody of erring US troops which is problematic. The agreement itself is full of vague provisions that allow an unlimited number of US troops to enter the Philippines, stay here for an indefinite period of time, and engage in unspecified activities. The VFA is a legal framework for the unhampered and unregulated stationing of foreign troops on Philippine territory, sans any actual basing treaty.

It is untrue that the VFA can be mutually beneficial to the US and the Philippines and that a mere review can make it so. Those who are saying that the VFA can be mutually beneficial are living in a dream. The VFA was designed as a one-sided agreement that benefits mainly the US. The past 11 years have shown that the agreement is patently one-sided. We are being treated to American military junk in exchange for the unlimited use of Philippine territory for US basing operations.

I got to talk to a former member of the AFP (Air Force) who experienced training under the VFA. While this officer learned some “skills” during the Balikatan exercises (night flying), the “skills” could not be used because the equipment needed were with the US. The Philippines did not have equipment for night-flying. And those other officers who learned new skills will soon apply for jobs at commercial airlines! He said that there is no way the AFP will modernize under such as system. The training exercises were “just for show”, he said.

The stark reality is that no amount of fine-tuning can save this one-sided military pact.

The VFA was not even ratified by the US Senate, in direct contradiction with the requirements of the Philippine constitution. US policymakers “recognize” the VFA as a treaty even if the official actions of the US Senate show otherwise.  This was argued extensively by the lawyers of various anti-VFA groups and personalities but unfortunately, the SC did not see it that way. The SC averred that the VFA was merely an implementation of an existing treaty, the Mutual Defense Treaty  of  1951 which was approved more than half a century ago. Sen. Miriam Santiago asked how the MDT could contemplate something such as the VFA which was entered into more than 40 years after the MDT was signed! The two agreements are decades apart.

Presidential Commission on the VFA should also examine the legal basis for the continuous, uninterrupted and permanent presence of US troops in Mindanao since 2002. The US troops under the Joint Special Operations Task Force Philippines are indefinitely stationed in Mindanao following a unilateral announcement by US Defense Secretary Robert Gates last August 2009. Former Navy Lt.SG Nancy Gadian testified that before the Philippine Senate that US forces have built permanent structures and have remained stationed in Mindanao since 2002. This no longer falls under the definition of “visiting”.
While we have no illusions on the outcome, it would still be good to engage the VFA review being conducted by Malacanang. It’s important that the public be made aware of the serious flaws of the VFA. The illusion of mutuality and reciprocity under the VFA should once and for all be demolished. The review is an opportunity to revive discussions on national sovereignty and an independent foreign policy.

Right now, the biggest stumbling block to an honest and objective VFA review is the Aquino government’s subservience to US impositions and interests. So long as the Aquino government remains dependent on US investments, loans and grants, and on American military junk, it is not likely that it will move to terminate the VFA on its own. Such is the effect of having a mendicant foreign policy.

During the review period, the people’s actions will play a crucial role. As in the rejection of the US bases treaty in 1991, the people’s protest will be the decisive factor in pushing the Philippine government to terminate the VFA.


The Visiting Forces Agreement has proven to be a patently one-sided pact that is an affront to our national sovereignty. Mere refinement, as Malacanang is suggesting, cannot save this agreement.  The Aquino administration should, in the course of its review, and on the basis of national interest, abrogate the agreement.

Lawmakers from both chambers of Congress have called for the junking of the VFA. The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines historically opposed the ratification of the pact. Women’s groups, lawyers and students have protested against the provisions of this one-sided agreement.

Eleven years since the VFA was passed, we have come to see the true intent of the agreement. The VFA has allowed US troops to remain in the country indefinitely, even absent an actual basing treaty. The VFA has been used by the US to regain lost ground from the Philippine Senate’s historic rejection of a new US bases treaty in 1991.

For all intents and purposes, the US troops have been stationed in Mindanao on a permanent and continuing basis since 2002. This was further confirmed by the August 2009 unilateral decision of the US government through Defense Secretary Robert Gates that 600 US Special Forces elements will be staying in Mindanao indefinitely.

Up to now, such a decision by the US has not been questioned by the Philippine government despite the obvious circumvention of the constitutional prohibition against foreign bases sans any treaty ratified by the Philippine Senate.

The problem with the VFA is not just the provisions on criminal jurisdiction. The whole agreement reeks of inequality; from the broad and vague provisions on what defines visiting US troops up to the mode by which the agreement was entered into. The VFA was ratified by as a treaty by the Philippine Senate but did not go through the same process in the US Senate. The VFA is being used to further US hegemonic interests in the region while the Philippines gets American military junk.

A “refinement” of the VFA would mean accepting the flawed framework and logic of the VFA.

It is time the Philippine government makes a stand for national interest and abrogate the VFA. Our national interests cannot be sacrificed just because our armed forces are so dependent on surplus military supplies from the US. ###

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,, 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.


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.


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?”, Sept. 12, 2009

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

7.     JSOTF-P Fact Sheet, (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.


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.

News Release

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. ###