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Archive for October, 2009

MANILA — The recent deaths of two US soldiers in Sulu have strengthened calls for the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Philippines and the United States.

Staff Sgt. Jack Martin and Sgt. First Class Christopher Shaw were killed together with a Philippine Marine identified only as a Private First Class Estrada on Sept. 28 when their vehicle struck a landmine in Barangay Kagay, Indanan town, Sulu.

Members of the Mindanao-based human rights group Kawagib visited Sulu in the wake of the Sept. 28 explosion and reported being informed by residents of Barangay Kagay that the vehicle which carried Martin, Shaw and Estrada was on its way to Barangay Batu-Bato, also in Indanan, transporting supplies.

“But they didn’t know what kind of supplies these were,” Kawagib secretary-general Bai Ali Indayla told Bulatlat in an interview. “These could have been food; these could also have been bullets.”

Kawagib members also reported that since the explosion, the military has conducted indiscriminate aerial bombings not only in Indanan, but also in nearby Panamao. A bridge leading to Maimbung and Parang was also shelled.

According to Indayla, the deaths of Martin and Shaw have raised fears among Sulu’s residents that the US may intervene and cause the escalation of the armed conflict in their province. “In fact, so many have evacuated for fear of being caught in the crossfire,” she told Bulatlat.

Indayla said the deaths of Martin and Shaw only serves to underscore the urgency of abrogating the VFA.

Passed by the Philippine Senate in 1999 and signed that same year by then President Joseph Estrada, the VFA grants extraterritorial and extrajudicial “rights” to US servicemen visiting the Philippines. It made possible the Balikatan military exercises, which have been held annually since 2002; and is also invoked to justify the presence of the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P).

The VFA has several times courted controversy in the last decade, with critics assailing it for violating sovereignty, among other reasons. Others have also pointed to the social costs of US military presence in the Philippines, not the least of which, they say, are the rise in prostitution and other forms of abuse against women.

The explosion that killed Martin, Shaw, and Estrada took place just days after the passage of a Senate resolution calling for the renegotiation or termination of the VFA.

On Sept. 23, the Senate passed without objection Senate Resolution No. 1356 calling for a renegotiation or termination of the VFA. Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, chairperson of the Legislative Oversight Committee on the VFA (Lovfa), sponsored the resolution, with senators Rodolfo Biazon, Joker Arroyo, Richard Gordon, Gregorio Honasan II, Panfilo Lacson, and Francis Pangilinan as co-sponsors.

But for Roland Simbulan, an expert on Philippine-US foreign and military relations, the call should go beyond renegotiation.

“Why just renegotiate when we do not need an onerous treaty like this?” Simbulan said in an interview with Bulatlat. “The call should be for immediate abrogation.”

Among the issues Santiago raised in her sponsorship speech for SR 1356 was that of the length of time that US troops are allowed to stay in the Philippines. This is an issue on which the VFA is silent. The VFA’s preamble merely states that “from time to time elements of the United States armed forces may visit the Republic of the Philippines.” Within the VFA, the term “United States personnel” is defined as “United States military and civilian personnel temporarily in the Philippines in connection with activities approved by the Philippine Government.”

“In the language of constitutional law, the VFA is void for vagueness, because it fails to define the terms ‘visit,’ ‘temporary,’ and ‘military activities,’” Santiago said. “Under the vagueness doctrine, it is impermissible for a statute to delegate basic policy matters to administrators, to such a degree as to lead to arbitrary and discriminatory application.”

According to Simbulan, the issue goes beyond the length of time that US troops can stay in the Philippines.

“First, there is the issue of unequal treatment before our own laws,” Simbulan said. “Why should groups of armed foreign soldiers entering our territory be given special rights and privileges like exemption from our immigration, customs and quarantine laws, exemption from berthing and port fees, Land Transportation Office requirements, and even being given special treatment in case of violations of our criminal laws or other laws in the country? There is no reciprocity for these rights and privileges that we have given them, which are not even accorded to foreign diplomats.”

Second, Simbulan added, “why are we allowing and even inviting foreign troops to interfere with our internal problems like kidnapping cases, and other peace and order problems? Rebellion and insurgency are also internal problems that our government is asking them to interfere in clandestinely. Otherwise, why are the Balikatan joint training exercises which are ostensibly the ‘activities’ being covered by the VFA being held in the most volatile areas of our country? If these were purely for military training purposes, then they should be held outside the conflict areas like in the Philippine Army training camps in Nueva Ecija or in Tanay, Rizal.”

He said that “under the cover or let me even call it camouflage of the VFA and Balikatan, we have allowed foreign troops to engage in secret combat operations for counter-insurgency, even allowing them to construct ‘forward operating bases’ inside Philippine Army camps, which is a violation of the Philippine Constitution. Official US documents call them ‘forward operating bases’, but US Embassy officials here and the Armed Forces of the Philippines still deny that they are bases.”

Allowing them to engage in counterinsurgency in both covert or overt ways is already in violation of the Constitution, Simbulan said. “US specialists in counterinsurgency, covert operations, psy-ops and intelligence from the elite units of the US Army are already here actively involved in combat by being embedded in many combat units of the local armed forces. But usually, they engage in their own ‘surgical missions’ independently. This is a transgression of our national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he pointed out.

“So the issue of their length of time in their stay here is an issue, but not the fundamental issue. They can always skirt this issue by rotating their troops for a specified time but keep their presence all year round, as they have been doing since 2002 in the permanent military bases and facilities worth more than $14 million that they have constructed.”

A press release by the US Department of Defense described Martin and Shaw as being “in the Philippines supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.”

Operation Enduring Freedom is the official name given to the US government’s military response to the terrorist attack of Sept. 11, 2001 in New York City. It entails a series of anti-“terrorism” activities in Afghanistan, the Philippines, the Horn of Africa, Trans-Sahara, and Pakinsi Gorge.

The Philippine Constitution prohibits foreign military presence in the country, “except under a treaty duly concurred in by the Senate and, when the Congress so requires, ratified by a majority of the votes cast by the people in a national referendum held for that purpose, and recognized as a treaty by the other contracting State.”

The US government does not recognize the VFA as a treaty, but merely considers it an “executive agreement”.

“For us, the VFA should have been abrogated a long time ago,” Indayla said. “With this incident that claimed the lives of two American soldiers, residents of Sulu are fearful that the war in their province will escalate.” (Bulatlat.com)

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MANILA–The Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Philippines and the United States became engulfed in controversy among lawmakers in the Philippines, especially after two U.S. military advisers were killed in a land mine explosion in Jolo province last week.

Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, a staunch advocate for its abrogation, said that “the soldiers weren’t supposed to be there, as their presence in the alleged land mine made the area a war zone.” Cebu Rep. Antonio Cuenco begged to disagree. Cuenco asserted that the Americans play a vital role in countering terrorism. Zamboanga del Sur Rep. Antonion Cerilles argued that the Americans were victims because they were on their way to do humanitarian works and were not in combat.

It is unavoidable for Filipinos to have mixed feelings about having U.S. troops on Philippine soil. The agreement, which was ratified by the Philippine Senate in 1999, carries with it special rights and privileges for U.S. soldiers and civil employees of the U.S. Department of Defense.

Source:

http://news.newamericamedia.org/news/view_article.html?article_id=abc2f5ef26f7fad5eaeaf180550420da

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MANILA — Amid the depressing devastation caused by typhoon Ondoy, the frantic relief efforts, and the Arroyo government’s disappointing display of its inability to act swiftly and decisively to help save Filipinos in distress as well as mitigate the sufferings of those affected by the storm, the story about another brewing storm hit the headlines. Two American soldiers were killed by a blast from an improvised explosive device as their vehicle, a Humvee, was traversing the road between Kagay and Bato-bato, in Indanan town in Sulu on Sept. 29.

Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago immediately called for the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). She said this proved that US troops were in a battle area and were taking part in combat operations against separatist insurgents. This was denied by the US embassy, saying that the American soldiers were merely inspecting the area where they plan to build a school.

However, events prior to and after the blast that killed the American soldiers prove otherwise. First, Major General Ben Dolorfino, commander of the Western Mindanao Command, admitted that a 45-minute firefight between government forces and unidentified gunmen occurred in Barangay Bitanag in Panamao, Sulu, before the blast that killed the US soldiers. While Panamao is in another side of the island, Jolo is a small island with a land area of only 894 square kilometers.

Second, at around 11 a.m. of the same day, a mere two and a half hours after the blast that killed the two American soldiers, a small bridge in Sitio Dauyan, Barangay Bunot, also in Indanan town, was bombed. Earlier, Sept. 25, a bridge in Bato-bato, Indanan,
was also bombed. Dolorfino explained that these two bombings were “retaliatory attacks” by the Abu Sayyaf because the AFP had “decided to launch offensive action on Sept. 20.”

A day after the blast that killed the two, more American soldiers arrived supposedly to help in relief efforts in flood-stricken areas, a move that raised suspicions that they might participate later in retaliatory action against the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu.

What are the implications of the death of the two American soldiers? Will this result in an escalation of US military intervention in the Philippines much like what happened in Vietnam from 1964 to 1975?

At the minimum, the death of the two American soldiers emphasized the urgency of abrogating the VFA. Clearly, the incident proved that US soldiers are indeed embedded in AFP units conducting combat operations.

There would be retaliatory action from US forces, that’s for sure. However, without precluding the probability of an escalated US military intervention in the future, there seems to be not enough reason yet for the US to pour in troops at the scale it did in Vietnam from 1964-75. The current level of US involvement and positioning in the country, in general, and Mindanao, in particular, is still well within its current defense strategy and policy. It has unlimited access to AFP facilities and has built support infrastructure for its operations. It has command over a surrogate army, the AFP, while practicing its small unit Special Forces operations, as well as joint combat operations. And its interests are well-protected by the Arroyo government.

Actually, the US does not need the death of its soldiers if it wanted to escalate its war of aggression. It just needs to invent a hoax as justification. The supposed stockpile of weapons of mass destruction of former Iraq president Saddam Hussein, which was made the justification by the US to gather support for its plan to attack Iraq, was proven to be nonexistent.

In Vietnam, the Aug. 4, 1964, Gulf of Tonkin incident — where US Navy destroyers Maddox and Turner Joy reported that they were being attacked by North Vietnamese torpedo boats — was proven to be false. Within hours, then US president Lyndon Johnson ordered air strikes on Hanoi. Although, wrote Edwin Moise in his book Tonkin Gulf and the Escalation of the War in Vietnam, an actual battle did occur between the Maddox and three North Vietnamese torpedo boats on Aug. 2, no Vietnamese were near the two warships on Aug. 4. By Aug. 7, the US Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which gave the president the authority to “take all necessary measures.” The resolution was cited by Johnson when he ordered the escalation of the war in 1965.

In 1964, the US had 16,000 military advisers stationed in South Vietnam. By late 1965, the US had increased its troop strength in Vietnam to 180,000. By mid-1966, US troops in the country numbered 350,000. In 1967, US troops in Vietnam reached almost half a million.

The number of US troops and advisers in the Philippines is still far from this, although through the VFA, they have already maintained a continuing presence. But US military intervention could escalate if Washington feels that its interests in the country are being threatened either by an anti-imperialist revolutionary organization or by a government that genuinely prioritizes the interests of its citizens over that of a foreign government.

If the Filipino people want to prevent this from happening, we could start by working for the abrogation of all treaties and agreements that enables US troops to operate in the country, such as the VFA and the Mutual Defense Treaty. We could also declare before the international community that we are for an independent foreign policy that renounces any form of aggression and intervention by one country over another. Only then could we make it politically costly for the US to escalate its intervention in the affairs of the country now and in the future. (Bulatlat.com)

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