Posts Tagged ‘US troops’


Image resultMany Filipinos seemed to welcome the arrival of US troops to aid in relief efforts for victims of Typhoon Haiyan, believed to be one of the strongest storms recorded in history. The devastation was just too extensive and the Philippine government was incompetent, disorganized and unprepared to meet the needs of the victims.

It was during the first 48 hours in the aftermath of the storm that US forces began establishing a presence in the Eastern Visayas region. In a matter of days, US air and naval assets were being moved from Japan to Tacloban City in Leyte. About 300 US forces were initially deployed. In the first week of the calamity, the US Department of Defense said it would ramp up its ground presence to 1,000 US troops. The USS George Washington also arrived from Hong Kong and was stationed off Samar Island. Some 8,000 US troops were reported to have been involved in the relief operations.

On November 15, newscaster Noli de Castro, a former Philippine vice president, said that US troops were the ones directing air traffic at the Tacloban airport.

The US has a long history with the Samar and Leyte islands. It was in this region that Filipinos fought American colonizers, resulting in the Balanggiga massacre of US troops in 1901. In retaliation for the massacre, Samar was declared a “howling wilderness” by US Gen. Jacob Smith, who ordered the killing every male over the age of 10 capable of bearing arms. The church bells taken by the US soldiers from the Balanggiga town still remain in American custody and are considered trophies of war. It was in Leyte where Gen. Douglas MacArthur landed with Philippine leaders as the US led the “liberation”of the Philippines from the Japanese colonizers, only to have the Philippine revert to being a US neo-colony saddled with two of the largest overseas US military bases.

The return to Leyte of the US soldiers has been hailed as some kind of “second coming” of MacArthur. Now US troops are helping bring relief goods and evacuating people from disaster-stricken areas. The US was said to be “liberating” the people from hunger and despair.

But behind the humanitarian rhetoric and military show of force is a disturbing agenda by the superpower that calls us its “special friend”. Some have in fact openly praised the US humanitarian efforts as a brilliant way of reestablishing US presence in the Philippines more than two decades after the dismantling of US bases. They have pointed out how the so-called US humanitarian mission came just at the right time, when the US and Philippine governments were negotiating increased US military access to Philippine facilities.

In an eye-opening op-ed piece on USA Today, Jonah Blank said that “deploying military resources for disaster relief is a remarkably effective — and inexpensive — investment in the future.”

One of the largest such deployments in history, the deployment of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and other assets following the Asian tsunami of 2004, is estimated to have cost $857 million. That’s roughly the price of three days’ operations in Afghanistan last year,” Blanks said.

Like any investment, the US hopes to get some positive returns from its engagement in Eastern Visayas, as Blank explains.

The goodwill the tsunami relief brought the U.S. is incalculable. Nearly a decade later, the effort may rank as one of the most concrete reasons Southeast Asian nations trust the long-term U.S. commitment to a strategy of Asian rebalancing. The Obama administration recognizes the value of disaster relief. As the Pentagon attempts to shift more of its weight to the Asian Pacific region while balancing a shrinking budget, this could turn out to be one of the best decisions it could make,” Blank said.

Blank by the way describes himself as a “senior political scientist” for the conservative think-tank RAND Corporation which provides research for the US armed forces and is funded by the US government. He has also worked as a policy director for the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Jonathan Bogais of the University of Sydney also situates the US deployment in Eastern Visayas within the ongoing negotiations for greater US military access to the Philippines. He cites the rotational presence of US troops in Mindanao, the setting up of a US private defense contractor in Subic to service US warships, and the tensions between China and the Philippines as current issues related to the expanding US presence in the country.

In the midst of this humanitarian tragedy, Typhoon Haiyan has delivered the means for the US to show solidarity to its Pacific ally. It has also allowed the US to send a clear message to China that it has the muscle needed to intervene at short notice in the region to protect its national interest if it feels it necessary,” Bogais said.

It is clear that the national interest Bogias was refering to is not the Philippines’ own but rather the US’ strategic economic and security interests in Asia.

In another article entitled “Military’s aid operations help promote US interests”, Dan De Luce of the Agence France-Presse notes that “the rapid deployment of US naval ships, cargo planes, helicopters and troops to the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan underscores America’s growing emphasis on disaster relief missions.These are seen as a strategic tool, allowing the United States to exert ‘soft power’ through means usually tied to ‘hard power’.”

“The US military’s relief efforts in the storm-ravaged Philippines will save lives, but also illustrate how humanitarian operations promote Washington’s interests in the Asia-Pacific,” the aritcle said.

That growing emphasis on disaster response is also evident during the annual Balikatan exercies between the US and the Philippines and has been used a justification for the permanent and continuing presence of the US military in the country under the Visiting Forces Agreement. In the course of these exercises, the US is able to project its military power in the region and asserts its role as a Pacific power.

“This (disaster response) is a classic example of why we need to be forward deployed and forward engaged, why we conduct theatre security cooperation, why we establish these relationships,” De Luce quotes a senior Marine Corps official.

“The speed with which US forces are able to respond to Typhoon Haiyan highlights the importance of the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercises we carry out regularly in the Asia-Pacific,” de Luce quotes Pentagon spokesman George Little told a news conference Tuesday.

De Luce too notes that the US deployment in Eastern Visayas takes place during the negotiations for expanded US access to the Philippines’ bases and ports.

Finally, we have Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto del Rosario to confirm our suspicions.

“What [we have seen] in Central Philippines as a result of this typhoon, and the assistance provided in terms of relief and rescue operation … demonstrates the need for this framework agreement that we are working out with the United States for increased rotational presence. It accentuates one of the main purposes of this framework, which is to make humanitarian assistance and disaster relief and response one of the major aspects of this agreement,” del Rosario told the media.

Del Rosario is practically begging the US military to reestablish permanent bases in the country. After all, the Philippines is visited by typhoons every year, apart from being part of the earthquake belt. Disasters are almost a certainty in this country.

From a negotiating standpoint, Del Rosario just showed the other side that we need them more than they need us. He just laid all his cards on the table and gave the US the upper hand.

Del Rosario also affirms a well-known fact, that the Aquino government does not have any long-term plans for disaster preparedness and would likely just wait for the next US aircraft carrier to bail us out in the event of another calamity. Disaster response, a basic function of the national government, is now dependent on a foreign army.

Now some would argue that philanthropy is philanthropy, whatever the motives are. Those C-130’s and Osprey’s still delivered relief to storm-ravaged communities, whatever geopolitical interests are at stake. Who could dispute the fact that typhoon victims were airlifted out of the province? Or that relief goods were air-dropped from US helicopters?

American activist and blogger David L. Swanson has this to say in reaction to the US deployment: “Good will is dependent on not dominating people militarily and economically — yet that seems to be exactly the goal (of the operations)”. He calls Blank’s earlier suggestions of using the relief operations to boost US presence in the Philippines as “taking advantage of the suffering Filipinos”.

As de Luce said in his AFP article, the US relief mission saved lives, but in the process promoted US geo-political interests. Military deployment is not always about humanitarian assistance. The primary objective of military deployment is war, or the preparation for war, which is what the US is undertaking through its rebalancing or pivot towards Asia. The US is pre-positioning troops and weapons in Asia not because it wants to help the next country that would be hit by a storm, but because it wants to strengthen its position as a global power, capable of imposing its will on other countries. 

With del Rosario’s latest statements, it now seems that the Philippines is close to concluding an agreement that would allow de facto US basing in Subic, Clark and other Philippine facilities. To make the proposal acceptable, the Aquino government will simply flash images of Haiyan and Tacloban. Never mind developing self-reliance and the capacity to prepare for future calamities. Never mind securing the people at the first instance, even before foreign assistance arrives. Never mind sovereignty.

Aquino merely has to invoke his government’s incompetence to justify its subservience. ###



Reply to Questions from Renato Reyes, BAYAN  Secretary General

By Prof. Jose Maria Sison

Chairperson, International League of Peoples’ Struggle

April 20, 2012

Renato Reyes (RR): I hope that you can answer briefly the following questions re China, Philippines and the assertion of national sovereignty. We have an all-leaders meeting this Saturday and we are trying to get views on how to deal with the issue of China’s incursions on Philippine  territory, the Aquino regime’s response and US intervention.

Jose Maria Sison (JMS):  First of all,  as a matter of principle, the Filipino people must assert their national sovereignty and Philippine territorial integrity over the issue of Spratlys (Kalayaan) and other islands, reefs and shoals which are well within the 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) defined by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).  According to the Philippine reactionary government, it  submitted on time to the UN the necessary scientific and technical grounds to define the Philippine 200-mile EEZ under UNCLOS.

The  UNCLOS is the strongest legal basis for the definition of the territorial sea and EEZ of the Philippine archipelago..  Also,  archaeological evidence shows that the islands, reefs  and shoals at issue have been  used by inhabitants of what is now the Philippines since prehistoric times. But the Philippine reactionary government muddles the issue and undermines its own position by making historical claims that date back only to a few decades ago when pseudo-admiral Cloma made formal claims to the Kalayaan group of islands.

Chinese historical claims since ancient times amount to an absurdity as this would be like Italy claiming as its sovereign possession all areas previously occupied by the Roman empire.  The name China Sea was invented by European cartographers and should not lead anyone to think that the entire sea belongs to China.  In the same vein, neither does the  entire Indian Ocean belong to India.

RR 1:  How do we view the incursions and aggressive behavior of China in territories claimed by the Philippines? Is this aggressiveness proof that China has imperialist ambitions and should be criticized as an imperialist power?  What is the relationship between China’s revisionist regime and its apparent desire to flex its muscles in the region?

JMS: The Filipino people and progressive forces must  oppose what may be deemed as incursions and what may appear as aggressive behavior of China with regard  to the territories belonging to the Philippines.  But so far China’s actions and actuations manifest assertiveness rather than outright military aggression. The Philippine reactionary government should desist from self-fulfilling its claim of China’s aggression by engaging in an anti-China scare campaign.

The Filipino people and progressive forces must consciously differentiate their position from that of the Aquino regime, its military subalterns and its Akbayan special agents who pretend to be super patriots against China but are in fact servile to the interests of US imperialism and are using the anti-China scare campaign to justify the escalation of US military intervention in the Philippines and US hegemony in the Asia-Pacific region.

At any rate, China must not violate Philippine national sovereignty and territorial integrity,  the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and the Code of Conduct it agreed to with the ASEAN.  The apparently aggressive or assertive acts and words of China are in consonance with its own premise of national sovereignty and territorial integrity as well as with the bourgeois character of the Chinese state that may indicate an imperialist tendency or ambitions.

The Chinese state is blatantly a capitalist state.  Only occasionally does it  claim to be socialist so as to cover up its capitalist character as the revisionists in power systematically did in the past.  Whatever is its character, the Chinese state must not infringe or threaten to infringe Philippine sovereignty and territorial integrity. When it does, it opens itself to criticism and opposition by political and diplomatic action.

RR 2:  On the other hand, would criticism of China serve the US ploy of increasing its military presence in the region by supporting the claim that China is indeed a major threat to Philippine sovereignty?  Would such criticism serve to support the claim that China is indeed a major threat while obfuscating the US continuous undermining and violation of Philippine sovereignty? How important is it that the Left join in the assertion of Philippine sovereignty against incursions by China?

JMS:  Criticism and opposition to any actual incursion by China is consistent with the assertion of national sovereignty and does not serve the US ploy so long as we expose at the same time why and how the Aquino regime’s posture against alleged incursions by China are meant to serve US goals in the region.

We must be alert to and oppose the malicious efforts of the US and the Aquino regime to hype China as an imperialist aggressor in order to allow the No. 1 imperialist to further entrench itself militarily in the Philippines and realize its strategy of encircling China and enhancing its hegemony over East Asia and entire Asia-Pacific region.  You should take critical notice of the fact that the agents of US imperialism like Aquino, his military sidekicks and his Akbayan hangers-on are presenting themselves as superpatriots against China while they allow the US to increase  to increase the  presence of military forces and activities under the Visiting Forces Agreement, the Balikatan exercises and various other pretexts.

It is a matter of principle to invoke national sovereignty and territorial integrity against China’s claims on certain islands, reefs and shoals that belong to the Philippines.  But we should expose and oppose the US and the Aquino regime for actively undertaking what are obviously anti-China provocations and propaganda aimed at justifying the escalation of US military intervention and further entrenchment of US forces in the Philippines, as part of the strategic scheme of the US to preserve and strengthen its hegemony over  the Asia-Pacific region, particularly East Asia.

Further, the US imperialists are increasing their pressure on China to privatize its state-owned enterprises, to restrain its  bourgeois nationalist impulses, to yield further to US economic and security dictates and to further promote the pro-US or pro-West bourgeois forces within China.  In comparison to the Philippines, China is a far larger country for imperialist exploitation and oppression.  Having more economic and political interests in China than in the Philippines, the US is using the Philippines as a staging base for actions aimed at  pressuring and influencing China rather than protecting the Philippines from China.

The US-RP Mutual Defense Treaty does not contain an automatic retaliation provision.  The  US has used this treaty as the basis for the Visiting Forces Agreement and for the escalation of US military intervention in the Philippines.  But in case of attack from any foreign power, the Philippines has no basis for expecting  or demanding automatic retaliation from the US.  The treaty allows the US to act strictly in its national interest and use its constitutional processes to bar the Philippines from demanding automatic retaliation against a third party that attacks the Philippines.

The US and China can always agree to cooperate in exploiting  the Philippines.  In fact, they have long been cooperating in exploiting the Philippines.  The  Chinese comprador big bourgeoisie in both the Philippines (Henry Sy, Lucio Tan and the like) and China (within the bureaucracy and outside) are trading and financial agents of the US and other imperialist powers.

RR 3:  The Aquino government has availed of diplomatic venues to resolve the dispute. Meanwhile, the Chinese incursions continue.  The Philippines is a weak country militarily and has no capability for securing its territory. What would be the requirements for the Philippines to be able to effectively assert its sovereignty (not limited of course to questions of territory)?  Briefly, how can the Philippines develop a credible external defense?

JMS: Rather than entertain hopes that the Aquino regime would defend Philippine sovereignty and territorial integrity, the Filipino people and progressive forces must resolutely and militantly  expose and oppose the puppetry,  shameless mendicancy  and  the hypocrisy of the regime in pretending to be for  national sovereignty and territorial integrity against China while inviting and welcoming increased US military intervention in the Philippines and using the country as a base for strengthening US hegemony in the Asia Pacific region.

Only the Filipino people and revolutionary forces can gain the capability to secure, control and defend their territory by  fighting for and achieving national and social liberation in the first place from US imperialist domination and from such reactionary regimes of the big compradors and landlords like the Aquino regime. Otherwise the US and their puppets will always be the bantay salakay at the expense of the people.

When the Filipino people and revolutionary forces come to power, they will certainly engage strongly among others in metal manufacturing, ship building and fishing in close connection with securing the Philippine territorial sea and exclusive economic zone.

They shall have internal political-military strength and socio-economic satisfaction. And they shall develop international solidarity and  use diplomatic action against any foreign power that violates Philippine sovereignty and territorial integrity.

At the moment, the US and Aquino regime are engaged in a calibrated anti-China propaganda campaign in order to  justify and allow the US to control the Philippines and East Asia militarily.  We are being subjected to an anti-China scare aimed at further strengthening the dominance of US imperialism and the domestic rule of its reactionary puppets like Aquino. Right now, we must give the highest priority to fighting these monsters.

The Filipino people and the progressive forces must complain to the entire world against any incursive act of China and at the same time against the maneuvers of the US and its Filipino puppets to use the anti-China campaign to further oppress and exploit the Filipino nation and people.  By the way, the Aquino regime blows hot and cold against China. In fact, it is vulnerable to China’s manipulation of Philippine exports to China like some semimanufactures and agricultural and mineral products.

When the Filipino people and revolutionary forces win, they shall be able to bring up through official  representatives  the issues concerning the UNCLOS to the UN General Assembly and the Hamburg-based International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea.  They can encourage  the cooperation of  certain countries like Russia and Norway to avoid unwelcome impositions  from US, UK and Netherlands in the exploration and development of oil and gas in the areas of the Philippines.

Even at this time,  approaches  can be made to China to avoid confrontations and tensions over the territories that belong to the Philippines and to engage in  all-round cooperation for mutual benefit, especially for the  advance of national independence, the industrial development of the Philippines and the termination of the  extremely oppressive and exploitative US hegemony over East Asia, which victimizes both the Philippines and China.

RR 4: What approaches would you like the Philippines to make towards China? Were such approaches taken into account in the 2011 NDFP proposal to the Aquino regime for an alliance and truce? In this regard, what can the Left do in view of the rabid servility of the Aquino regime to the US.

JMS:  China has been known for its policy of dealing diplomatically solely with the state (rather than with the revolutionary forces) in any country  and  for its flexibility in considering the needs and demands of that state or country.  It is not as imposing and as aggressive as the US in diplomatic and economic relations with other countries.  It tries  to comply with what it professes, such as the principles of independence, non-interference, equality and cooperation for mutual benefit.

Thus, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines has proposed to the Aquino regime strategic alliance and truce in the context of peace negotiations.  It has challenged the Aquino regime to make a general declaration of common intent with the NDFP to assert national independence and end unequal treaties and agreements; expand democracy through empowerment of the workers and peasants; carry out national industrialization and land reform; foster a patriotic, scientific and pro-people culture; and  adopt an independent  foreign policy for world peace and development.

A key part of the NDFP proposal is for the Philippines to approach China and other countries for cooperation in the establishment of key industrial projects for the national industrialization of the country.  Certainly, it would be greatly beneficial for the Filipino people that the Philippines is industrialized and ceases to be merely an exporter of raw materials, semi-manufactures and migrant workers, mostly women.

But the US agents in the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process and in Akbayan and Aquino himself supplied information on the NDFP proposal to the US embassy and Washington.  They proceeded to cook up the anti-China scare campaign in order to undercut the proposal and serve US imperialist interests.  It would be absurd for BAYAN, Bayan Muna and MAKABAYAN to join  the rabidly pro-Aquino Akbayan or even compete with it in the anti-China scare campaign that draws away attention from US imperialism as well as justifies US military intervention and aggression in the Philippines and the whole of East Asia and the Asia-Pacific.

The people should know that the agents of US imperialism in the Aquino regime have used various malicious  and cruel tactics to block the road to a just peace.  The tactics  include the abduction, torture and extrajudicial killing of NDFP consultants in violation of JASIG and the continued imprisonment of hundreds of political prisoners in violation of CARHRIHL.

RR 5: How would you describe the contradictions between the US and China? On one hand, the US is wary of the rise of China as a military power and has sought to encircle China, yet on the other hand, the US economy is closely linked to China’s. and China is said to be the biggest creditor of the US.

JMS: There is unity and struggle between two capitalist powers in the relationship between the US and China. The US is not yet really worried about China having the military strength that can be projected outside its borders.  It is more worried about China’s military strength being able to defend China, fend off US imperialist dictates and threats and combat separatist forces in Taiwan, Tibet and Xinjiang.

The US strategy of encirclement is calculated to keep China as a friendly partner in the exploitation of the Chinese and other peoples. The US and China have already more than three decades of being close partners in promoting and benefiting from the neoliberal policy of globalization.  The super-exploitation of the Chinese working people, China’s  trade surpluses and huge indebtedness of the US to China are matters well within the negotiable relations of two capitalist powers, which would rather go on taking advantage of the working people rather than go to war against each other.

The efforts of China to find its own sources of energy and raw materials and markets and fields of investment can be at times irritating or even infuriating to the US (when the conflicts of interest occur as in Iran, Sudan, Libya and Syria).  But the capitalist powers can settle their relations with each other at the expense of the working people and underdeveloped countries, until the crisis of the world capitalist system further worsens to the point that a number of capitalist powers accelerate their aggressiveness and even become fascist in their home grounds. ###

On April 19, activists aligned with the national democratic movement are expected to picket the Chinese embassy in the Philippines. Prior to this, militant and anti-imperialist groups have expressed strong opposition to China’s bullying in Scarborough Shoal. A resolution opposing China’s incursions has been filed by progressive partylist groups in the House of Representatives. China’s latest statements however show that it is adamant in asserting its questionable claims on Scarborough Shoal.

We oppose in no uncertain terms the incursions and aggressive behavior of China towards Philippine territory. The aggressive moves are the undeniable results of China’s bourgeois leadership who now appear to have imperialist ambitions in the region.

As a matter of principle, the Filipino people must assert Philippine sovereignty and territorial integrity against all efforts to undermine them. In the same spirit, we staunchly oppose both the Aquino regime and the US when they use the dispute as justification for the expanded and increased presence of US troops in the Philippines. US intervention is also a violation of our national sovereignty. In fact, it is the US who has the worst track record in undermining Philippine sovereignty.

Meanwhile, we express solidarity with the oppressed peoples of China who are fighting China’s capitalist ruling class as well as US imperialist exploitation. At the end of the day, China’s bourgeois ruling elite and US imperialism, despite their contradictions, are united in advancing the interests of the capitalist class against the interests of the Chinese and Filipino oppressed classes.

As we fight efforts to undermine Philippine sovereignty on all fronts, we believe that both the Chinese and Filipino people share a common aspiration for genuine peace and development in the region.   Image

In today’s news reports, the word “vandalism” has been used to describe the protest action by militant youth and students at the US embassy yesterday, April 16. The alleged “vandalism” pertains to the paint-bombing and removal of letters from the seal of the US embassy in Manila. One report headlined as “Police caught sleeping as vandals attack US embassy”. (Notice how the usual “militants” tag has been dropped in favor of “vandals” ).

The word “vandalism” is derived from the Germanic Vandals who ransacked Rome and were said to have defaced or destroyed much of the “beauty” of the Empire that was founded on slavery and colonization. Wikipedia says that “The term Vandalisme was coined in 1794 by Henri Grégoire, bishop of Blois, to describe the destruction of artwork following the French Revolution,” The introduction of the term builds on the notion that those destroying art, like the Germanic Vandals, were “barbaric”.

During the Paris Commune, French artist Gustave Courbet proposed before the commune the dismantling of the Vendome Column, a symbol of Napoleon’s empire. Back then, it was a celebrated act of “vandalism”. In certain situations like the Paris Commune, “vandalism” became an act to protest the symbols of the power and conquest. Similar acts would be repeated in history as the portraits of the dictator Marcos would be vandalized in the siege of Malacanang and when the huge bust of the dictator would be destroyed in an explosion launched by the New People’s Army.

But those were exceptional situations because most of the time, the word “vandalism” hewed closer to its ruling-class origins, often connoting an act of barbarism. When I was a young boy, vandalism was a school offense, often referring to writing stuff on the CR wall or on your desk.

The media’s use of the term “vandals” in describing activists was derogatory to the point that it attempts to reduce the protest as  a rowdy mob out to sow mayhem in the streets, much like the German Vandals.

The protesters were targeting the US embassy, long a symbol of US neocolonial rule in the Philippines. They were protesting the opening of the Balikatan war games which aim to use the Philippines as a staging ground for US military power projection in the region. They knew full well that the US war machine has been responsible for so many killings and destruction worldwide. The US has gotten away with mass murder and the unprecedented destruction of public and private property in its bid to be the world’s sole superpower.

The students were trying to tell the US government that it should not  for a second think that it is unchallenged here in the Philippines. Protesters wanted to send the clear message that they were ready to dismantle, figuratively and literally, the symbols of US power in the region.

Some may be shocked or turned off by yesterday’s protest action, in the same way they were probably turned off by the heckling of US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. However, the media’s depiction of activists as a bunch of rowdy goons is grossly unfair.

As I wrote before on the heckling of Clinton, protesters sometimes resort to a kind of “asymmetrical warfare” to convey their message and express their outrage. I’ve seen students hurl paint bombs at greedy oil firms’ offices. I’ve seen workers smash windows of workplaces and vehicles during violent suppression of strikes. I’ve seen UP residents topple a guard house to set up a barricade against a demolition team. Protesters defaced or “vandalized” many of Gloria Arroyo’s posters during her reign of terror. Even before that, protesters did the same thing to huge tarpaulins of former president Estrada.

Instead of calling them vandals, media should have asked what it was that caused such outrage on the students that they would get up early from bed and proceed to pick apart, letter by letter, the seal of the mighty U.S. of A.

Yesterday’s action at the US embassy should be taken in its entire political context, and not just viewed based on the specific act of defacing the seal. It was an act of protest– no different from dismantling Napoleon’s Column or blowing up Marcos’ bust– against a neocolonial power that has done the worst acts of barbarism of the past century.   ###

Madalas naitatanong kung bakit wala tayong protesta ngayon laban sa incursion ng mga Chinese fishing vessels at maritime surveillance ships sa Scarborough Shoal at bakit daw sa US lang nakatuon ang protesta ng Kaliwa. Ang katunayan nyan ay maaga pa lang nagpahayag na ang BAYAN laban sa Chinese incursion sa Scarborough Shoal at nanawagan din sa PH government na igiit ang soberanya ng Pilipinas. Naghain na rin ng resolusyon ang mga progresibong partylist groups para imbesitgahan ang naturang incursion sa teritoryo ng Pilipinas.

Pero sa pagitan ng China at US, di hamak na mas malala, mas masaklaw at mas mapanganib ang ginagawa ng US sa ating bansa. Hindi lang incursion sa teritoryo ng bansa ang ginagawa ng US. Nais ng US ang permanenteng presensyang militar sa ating bansa. Nais ng US na gawing military outpost ang hindi lang isa kundi maraming bahagi ng bansa, mula Luzon hanggang Mindanao. Ginagawa ng US na isang laboratoryo ang Pilipinas para sa counterinsurgency operations nito, kabilang ang paggamit ng mga drones. Ginagamit din ng mga tropang Kano ang Pilipinas para sa mga notoryus na “rest and recreation” activities. At gagamitin din ang Pilipinas bilang lunsaran ng mga operasyong interbensyon ng US sa rehiyon.

Sa usapin ng dispute sa China, umiiral na ang mga hakbangin ng gobyerno para hanapan ng diplomatikong solusyon ang usapin. Marami na ngang ahensya ang pinapakilos sa isyung ito. Pero sa usapin ng US troops at VFA, kapansin-pansing walang makabuluhang aksyong ginagawa ang gobyerno para tugunan ang mga isyung pang-soberanya. Kabaligtaran pa, nanghikayat pa ang gobyerno ng dagdag na sundalong Kano at ibinubukas pa ng Pilipinas sa ibayong paglabag ng soberanya.

Walang pasubali, tutol tayo sa incursions ng China at paglabag sa soberanya ng Pilipinas.  Tutol tayo sa anumang “bullying” at paggamit ng pwersang militar sa usapin ng territorial dispute. Pero dagdag pa dito, kailangang mas pursigido nating tutulan itong balak ng US na magmistulang base militar muli ang buong Pilipinas. Di dapat payagan ang US na gamitin ang isyu ng South China/West Philippine Sea para bigyang katwiran ang plano nitong magdagdag ng tropang Kano sa Pilipinas. Di dapat manghimasok sa usaping ito ang US. Isang malaking pagkakamali na isiping magkapareho ang interes ng US ang Pilipinas pagdating sa territorial disputes. Layon lang ng US na maisulong ang imperyalistang agenda nito na makapaghari sa rehiyong Asya, bagay na hindi naman alinsunod sa pambansang interes ng Pilipinas.

Ang usapin sa Scarborough Shoal at Spratlys ay mga dispute sa pagitan ng mga bansang naggigiit ng territorial claims. Diplomatiko ang pangunahing paraan ng pagresolba sa isyu. Samantala, ang usapin naman ng US troops at VFA ay pagsiskap ng isang imperyalistang bansa na ituring tayong tila isa pa ring kolonya nito. Pulitikal na pakikibaka ang pangunahing paraan ng resolusyon sa isyu. Kung susuriin ng mas malalim, talagang magkaiba ang pinagmumulan ng dalawang usapin at magkaiba ang paraan ng pagtugon.

Higit na nangangailangan ng kagyat na aksyong protesta ang usapin ng US troops at VFA dahil sa saklaw ng isyu at sa tindi ng paglabag sa soberanya ng bansa. Aminado ang mga progresibo na ito ngayon ang pangunahing pinagtutuuan ng mga pagkilos. Pero habang nangyayari ito, matamang babantayan natin ang developments sa usapin ng China at dun ibabatay ang anumang magiging susunod na hakbangin.###


UPDATE April 18: Bayan Muna partylist has filed a resolution against Chinese incursions.  House Resolution 2330 was filled expressing the sense of the House of Representatives assailing China for its latest incursions and investigating the failure of government to assert sovereignty. Members of Bayan Muna are scheduled to picket the Chinese embassy tomorrow to express their protest over China’s incursions, according to a statement released by the group.

Why is the Philippine government not doing anything about the permanently stationed US  Special Forces in Mindanao?

The permanent presence, which is nearing its 10th year now, dates back from the time the US launched its borderless “war on terror” in the aftermath of the 9-11 attacks, which is also marking its 10th anniversary this year. The “war on terror” resulted in direct US military aggression in Afghanistan and Iraq and saw US forces conducting operations in Pakistan. Other “secret wars” were launched worldwide in the name of fighting terrorism.

In 2002, the Philippines was tagged by the US as the “second front” in the “war on terror”, and Operation Enduring Freedom-Philippines was launched against the Abu Sayyaf and the Jemaah Islamiya purportedly training in Mindanao. For the first time, US forces were deployed in actual combat areas in Mindanao under the guise of training exercises called Balikatan 02-1. US forces have not left Southern Philippines since. A permanent structure has been set-up inside Camp Navarro in Zamboanga which hosts a rotating force of about 600 personnel of the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines, under the US Joint Special Operations Command.

It is incomprehensible why the Philippine government has not questioned the permanent basing of US troops in Mindanao, since this already goes against the definition of ‘visiting forces’ as contemplated by the Visiting Forces Agreement. The decision to maintain the US Special Forces in Mindanao was a unilateral move by the US government during the time of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. However, the Aquino administration apparently does not mind the continuing violation of the country’s sovereignty under this arrangement.

Unlike in Iraq or Afghanistan, there is no time-table for the pull-out of US troops in Mindanao. There are no clear parameters on how they will consider their mission ‘accomplished’. Clearly, the US government is circumventing a constitutional prohibition on US bases. The Philippine Constitution is clear, no foreign military bases absent a treaty ratified by both governments. With the virtual basing of US troops in Mindanao, the Philippine government is allowing itself to be hoodwinked by Washington. The Philippine government is allowing itself to be used in advancing this 10-year borderless war on terror that has claimed more lives worldwide than the original victims of 9-11.

Exactly two years ago, the New York Times reported that then US Defense Secretary Robert Gates decided to “keep an elite 600-troop counterinsurgency operation deployed in the Philippines despite pressure to reassign its members elsewhere”.

The NY Times article tells us that the decision for US Special Forces to stay in Mindanao was a unilateral decision made by the US government. It is an imposition by a super power on a puppet state. It is not a sign of enduring friendship. It is a sign that the US is trying to one-up the Philippines every chance it gets. It shows how the US government regards us a nation.

It is time to ask what the Department of Foreign Affairs is doing.  What is the Presidential Commission on the VFA doing? What is the Joint Congressional Oversight of the VFA doing? None of them appear to be even remotely concerned about this violation of our country’s sovereignty. Is it because were so desperate to get US support for our claims in the Spratlys? Is it because our government is so dependent on US economic and military aid that it is prepared to look the other way when sovereignty is assaulted?

The NY Times article described the Special Operations Forces as “the most highly skilled in the military at capture-and-kill missions against insurgent and terrorist leaders. Within their ranks, Army Special Forces, known as the Green Berets, have for decades been training (US) allied troops on their home soil and conducting counterinsurgency missions.

Meanwhile, analyst Nick Terse in an article describes the JSOC as a power-elite even in Washington. “In 120 countries across the globe, troops from Special Operations Command carry out their secret war of high-profile assassinations, low-level targeted killings, capture/kidnap operations, kick-down-the-door night raids, joint operations with foreign forces, and training missions with indigenous partners as part of a shadowy conflict unknown to most Americans.”

Analysts have also estimated that funding for these units have tripled in the aftermath of 9-11, from $2.3 billion to $6.3 billion in 2011, not counting appropriations for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the Philippines, Terse says that the US government spends some $50 million a year to maintain the 600-man Special Forces unit.  The Obama administration has given the JSOC a more prominent role in US combat operations abroad.

After ‘concluding’ Balikatan 02-1 in 2002, the US government again unilaterally announced that troops will be staying behind for so-called “Civil Military Operations” and to continue training local troops. The US forces have not left since then. They have also established temporary faculties in other parts of Mindanao. January 2012 will mark a decade of US permanent basing in Mindanao, and there seems to be no end in sight for their deployment in this part of the world, not if Obama can help it.

Front page photo of the Philippine Star....duh

It is ironic that while the nation will be observing the 20th anniversary of the historic rejection of the US bases treaty by the Philippine Senate, US forces have managed to diminish this victory by having permanent and continuing presence in Mindanao. It’s like the bases never really left. While the US facilities in Mindanao host a much smaller force, the rationale for their presence remains the same.

The problem with US troops in Mindanao highlight the serious flaws of the Visiting Forces Agreement. The VFA’s vagueness is being exploited to allow the permanent stationing of an unlimited number of foreign troops, engaged in unspecified activities, anywhere in the country.

There has been a review of the VFA completed by Malacanang, yet the results have not been made public. Unfortunately, the review does not include the question of permanent basing of US troops in Mindanao. (To be continued)

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.