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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 — 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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PRESS RELEASE
Reference: Dean Roland Tolentino, spokesperson
September 15, 2009

Pagbabago! People’s Movement for Change calls for the immediate termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), in light of recent revelations by Ret. Lt. Senior Grade Nancy Gadian and statements of high ranking US officials confirming the involvement of US troops in combat operations in the Philippines.

Pagbabago! welcomes the Resolution of the Senate on the Renegotiation or Termination of the VFA, as introduced by Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, and already signed by four other senators. The resolution underscored the unconstitutionality of the VFA, challenging the Supreme Court’s decision on the Nicolas v. Romulo in February 2009.

No less than US Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced that 600-elite troops are staying in the country for counterinsurgency operations; while Col. Bill Coultrup, Commander of the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines describes his task force’s work as 20 percent combat-related, designed to “help the armed forces of the Philippines neutralize high value targets…”

We fully support Ret. Lt. Senior Grade Nancy Gadian in her testimony on US troops’ presence and operations in the Philippines. Ms. Gadian’s statement that US troops have stayed in the Philippines for the last “seven years, 365 days in a year” and, are stationed in permanent structures in various camps in Mindanao, confirms the permanent basing of supposedly ‘visiting’ US troops in the country, in violation of the Philippine Constitution.

Ms. Gadian testified based on her personal knowledge of the US military’s direct role in intelligence operations, by determining enemy targets and their location, and briefing Philippine military officials in conducting operations against these targets. She also attests that US troops are embedded in Philippine military units operating in Mindanao.

Ms. Gadian testified further that US forces unilaterally conduct some of their operations without informing Philippine authorities, in violation of the Constitution and even of the VFA.

We admire Ms. Gadian’s courage in exposing the corruption in the Balikatan exercises and the US troops’ involvement in the country’s internal affairs. With Ms. Gadian’s testimony, there is now factual basis in the latest Supplemental Motion for Reconsideration on the Nicolos v. Romulo case pending before the Supreme Court.

The actual conduct and operations of US troops staying in the country refers to the VFA as the legal framework, even if the VFA does not stipulate provisions for permanent basing and joint military exercises such as the Balikatan. For ten years, the VFA has been the basis for the unbridled entry and stay of the US troops in the country.

We call on the other Senators to support the Resolution to abrogate the VFA. Our legislators, especially those vying for higher positions come the 2010 elections, should make clear their stand on the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. #

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poster-copy-33LAMBATIN ANG BALIKATAN SA BIKOL

Reference: Salvador “Baddy” France Chairman- LAMBAT-Bikol

Contact No: 435-5211 or 09089499604

Hitsa ng mga mangingisda sa Bikol para sa pangisdaan at kalikasan, kabuhayan at kapayapaan.

Magkakaroon ng”Fluvial Protest” o Paglalayag Laban sa Balikatan ang mga mangingisda ng Albay sa pangunguna ng LAMBAT-BIKOL

Petsa at Oras: March 16, 2009/ 8:00am- 11:00am

Oras ng programa sa Legazpi City Port: 9:00 am- 11:00am

Ang dambuhalang oktopus sa daigdig na kinakatawan ng imperyalistang US na pangunahing sumisipsip at nagpapahirap sa kabuhayan ng mga mamamayan lalo na sa mga magsasaka at mangingisda ay nanghihimasok din sa ating soberanya. Dadaong ngayong Marso sa Kabikolan ang mga US warship para sa RP-US Balikatan Exercises.

Sa gitna ng sobra-sobrang paghihirap ng mga mangingisda sa Bikol dulot ng samu’t-saring dahilan tulad ng:

  • maliit na huli ng isda sa dagat dahil nilason na ng operasyon ng Lafayette ang dagat sa Albay Gulf
  • palagiang pagkakaroon ng red tide sa karagatan ng Sorsogon,
  • pagpasok at paglimas sa yamang dagat ng mga commercial fishing vessels sa mga munisipyong pangisdaan sa Ragay Gulf, Masbate at Camarines Norte,
  • pagpapalayas sa mga mangingisda na nakatira sa mga baybayin para bigyang daan ang mga proyektong eko-turismo ng gubyerno katulad ng nangyayari sa Embarcadero sa Legazpi City, at iba pang mga beach resorts na dinidevelop sa Caramoan, Camarines Sur.

Mas pinalalala ang kalagayang ito ng makadayuhan at pabor sa mga kapitalistang mga batas at programa ng gubyerno tulad ng Fisheries Code, Agricultural and Fisheries Modernization Act, Mining Act of 1995 at gayundin ang kapabayaan at kawalan ng suporta ng gubyerno sa sektor ng mga mangingisda.

Ang lugmok na kalagayang ng mga mangingisda at magsasaka sa Bikol ang idinadahilan kung bakit andito daw ang mga Amerikanong sundalo para makatulong daw ang BALIKATAN na “humanitarian mission” nga daw ang isasagawa. Malaking kasinungalingan at kayabangan ito!

Hindi pa nga dumadating ang bulto ng mga sundalong Kano sa Bikol grabe nang pananakot, psywar, pambubugbog sa mamamayan, pangunahin sa mga magsasaka at mangingisda na hinahagupit na ng Balikatan clearing operations. Para sa paghahanda sa pagdating ng mga sundalong Amerikano, ang mga dadaungan at pupuntahan ng mga ito ay tinambakan na ng pwersa ng AFP.

Labis na pangamba ang nararamdaman ng mga mangingisada sa isinasagawang urban SOT sa mga kostal na barangay sa Albay at sa malawakang “clearing operations” ng AFP. Pinapatawag nila ang mga Brgy Councils at binibigyan ng babala ang mga mangingisda. Ang CMO unit ng Philippine Army ay nagtatalakay ng mga paninira laban sa mga organisasyong tumututol sa isasagawang BALIKATAN exercises sa Bikol. Ang Bureau Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) sana ang ahensya na dapat na tumulong sa mga mangingisda, ay nagpalabas pa ng pahayag na magkakaroon daw ng anim na buwang “fish ban” o pagbawal sa pangingisda sa loob ng 15 kilometrong perimeter mula sa baybaying dagat sa mga lugar na kung saan dadaong ang mga barko ng US troops.

Sa kalagayang may presensya ng napakaraming militar sa kostal na mga barangay sa Albay, malaki ang posibilidad na tataas pa ang mga insidenteng tulad ng pambabaril at pagpatay sa mangingisdang si Domingo Barbado sa Adiangao, San Jose, Camarines Sur.

Ang salaysay ng mga mangingisda ng Adiangao, wala silang mahuli ng araw na iyon kaya nagpasiya silang bumalik sa pampang ng Adiangao. Bigla na lamang silang hinarang ng bangka ng BFAR. Nakasakay sa bangka ng BFAR-Task Force Kalikasan ang humigit-kumulang 20 kalalakihan na armado ng mahahabang baril. Kasabay sa grupong ito si Mayor Jaime Delena ng Presentacion, naka-sibilyan subalit armado rin ng mahabang baril. Pinagbabaril ang walang kalaban-labang mga mangingisda. Mula noong Marso 3, walang nangingisda mula sa mga taga-Adiangao at maging sa mga taga-Presentacion, Camarines Sur.

Hindi papayag ang mga Bikolanong mangingisda sa ganitong sitwasyon.

Makikipagkaisa ang mga mangingisda at mga magsasaka sa iba’t-iba pang sektor at malawak na mamamayan upang ipaglaban ang kaligtasan at kapakanan ng mga mangingisda at magsasaka.

Tutulan ang pandarambong ng US ating likas na yaman.Pangalagaan ang ating karagatan, kalikasan at kabuhayan.

Tutulan ang militarisasyon sa kalunsuran at kanayunan.

Ibasura ang VFA upang matigil ang Balikatan exercises, at mapalayas ang US troops sa bansa.

Proteksyonan ang buhay at kabuhayan ng mga Bikolano.

Proteksyonan ang kalikasan at kapayapaan ng mga komunidad ng Bikol.

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Ref: Jenelyn Nagrampa, Convenor of Women’s Movement Against Balikatan (WOMB)

We just recently commemorated the International Working Women’s Day last March 8, but this year’s commemoration carries a special meaning more so for Bicolano women because the Balikatan exercises are to be conducted on the region. We celebrated our womanhood by marching on the streets and forming an alliance called Women’s Movement Against Balikatan (WOMB) to show our vehement opposition against the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the Balikatan.

WOMB symbolizes the nurturing character of women who are willing to give their all to protect their children against harm. The Balikatan will definitely put Bicolanos in harm’s way not only because of the military operations to be conducted by US and Filipino troops but due to the moral decay they will bring to the region.

The presence of the US forces in the region will further aggravate prostitution and the use of illegal drugs and substances, which is already a deep-rooted social problem that our government refuses to resolve. Add to this the fact that in the 1990’s GABRIELA has filed over 97 cases of rape and sexual assault against various US servicemen in Subic and Clark. Fifteen of these cases involved children as victims. Aside from these three thousand other cases of sexual abuse involving both women and children were also filed during 1980 – 1988. All of these cases are unresolved. Not even one US serviceman was punished.

We hope that Nicole is the last victim of the VFA and we are calling on Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to immediately scrap this onerous treaty and cancel the Balikatan exercises. We as Filipinas should also assert the sovereignty of our country.

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dsc00013Bicolanos in Metro Manila converge with national militant mass organizations to condemn the Visiting Forces Agreement and protest against the conduct of  Balikatan in Bicol

Bicolanos in Metro Manila converge with national militant mass organizations to condemn the Visiting Forces Agreement and protest against the conduct of Balikatan in Bicol

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