Wednesday, March 05, 2008

U.S. Military Forces in the Philippines: Negotiated Subservience by an Illegitimate Government

Published on Bulatlat (

Big-time corruption by the Mafioso in Malacañang in a series of unexplained negotiated contracts with foreign powers have squandered the people's money, and as a consequence, little is left for basic social services for our far-flung communities. It is ironic that, especially in the island of Mindanao, U.S. Special Operations Forces with a sinister agenda, have been invited by the illegal regime to do active "humanitarian work" in the form of medical, dental and other social services, including infrastructure projects in many remote communities, services which should be the function of a government, even if it is just a de facto one.

BY ROLAND G. SIMBULAN*Senior Fellow, Center for People's Empowerment in GovernancePosted by Bulatlat Vol. VIII, No. 5, March 2-8, 2008

The nation in seething in volcanic outrage at the revelations of the whistleblower Mr. Rodolfo Lozada who has shaken the nation and once again exposed the illegitimate occupier in Malacañang as an "evil" Mafioso. This Mafioso is responsible for more than 800 extrajudicial killings and disappearances since 2001. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's de facto government has not only negotiated loan contracts with foreign vested interests which have squandered our people's taxes to big-time corruption. It has also negotiated subservience to U.S. military forces which are now seen moving around in practically any part of the country, to engage in counterinsurgency and other unspecified "activities" especially in the second largest island, Mindanao.

Big-time corruption by the Mafioso in Malacañang in a series of unexplained negotiated contracts with foreign powers have squandered the people's money, and as a consequence, little is left for basic social services for our far-flung communities. It is ironic that, especially in the island of Mindanao, U.S. Special Operations Forces with a sinister agenda, have been invited by the illegal regime to do active "humanitarian work" in the form of medical, dental and other social services, including infrastructure projects in many remote communities, services which should be the function of a government, even if it is just a de facto one.

The outrage over the negotiated sell-out and subservience to foreign military forces has widened and deepened among various sectors in Mindanao, raising the awareness even of local officials. This comes as a Philippine Army unit operating in Sulu which was advised and accompanied by several U.S. Special Operations Forces, massacred eight Moro civilians (men, women, and children ) in what the armed forces described as "collateral damage" in an encounter with the Abu Sayyaf. It also comes at a time when another 14-year-old schoolgirl was raped by a U.S. Marine in the island of Okinawa where 75 percent of U.S. military forces in Japan are deployed. Many of the U.S. Marines from the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force in Okinawa are the ones who participate regularly in the year-round joint Balikatan exercises in the Philippines. In fact, the U.S. Marines charged and later convicted for the rape of "Nicole" at Subic in 2005 where one was convicted by the Makati Regional Trial Court, were based in Okinawa, Japan.

The resumption of the large-scale Balikatan exercises comes after they were suspended during the past two years because of the Subic rape case, where a U.S. Marine was convicted of rape. However, the suspension of the Balikatan exercise was lifted, when Malacañang officials, with the connivance of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) sprang the convicted U.S. soldier from the Philippine judicial system's custody and handed him over to the U.S. Embassy. The brazenness of this abduction by the Mafioso in Malacañang may appear all too familiar from the way whistleblower Mr. Rodolfo Lozada was abducted from the Manila International Airport by a group of government operatives to prevent him from testifying from the Senate hearings. The resumption of the large-scale Balikatan in 2008 is supposed to be the reward given to us by the U.S. government for the Mafioso's surrender of our custody and sovereignty of the convicted U.S. Marine rapist to them. Six thousand U.S. troops are expected to participate in this year's Balikatan exercises, with the Balance Piston 08 affecting many parts of Luzon, and in Mindanao the areas included for penetration by U.S. troops through "humanitarian work" are municipalities in Cagayan de Oro City, Bukidnon and Lanao provinces. Meanwhile, all year round, a detachment of what a high-ranking Pentagon official described as U.S. Special Operations Forces "a little less than 1,000" have set up and constructed military facilities in Zamboanga City, Basilan and Sulu.
All over the island of Mindanao in the past two weeks, posters (U.S. TROOPS OUT NOW!, JUNK THE VISITING FORCES AGREEMENT) have appeared in major cities, towns and highways demanding the removal of U.S. military forces which have been invited by the illegal Arroyo regime to engage in counterinsurgency/counter-terrorist operations through surveillance and spying , joint operations training, support and advice, other forms of "activities" which are unspecified under the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). The VFA in fact, does not only allow uniformed U.S. military personnel, but also " civilian personnel who are employed by the U.S. armed forces or who are accompanying the U.S. armed forces..." (Art I. Sec. 2, VFA Definitions)

No less than the Regional Legislative Assembly, the highest policy-making body of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) has issued Resolution No. 353 adopted on Feb. 5, 2008 "Expressing the objection of the Regional Assembly to the Holding of Balikatan Whether Military, Medical or Civilian Exercises in the Province of Lanao del Sur and the Islamic City of Marawi." Earlier, the governor of the province of Lanao del Sur expressed opposition to the planned Balikatan exercises.

The City Council (Sangguniang Panlungsod) of the Islamic City of Marawi in Lanao del Sur in Resolution No. 112, Series of 2008 dated Jan. 28, 2008, "Resolution Urging Her Excellency Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, President of the Republic of the Philippines, to Refrain the Balikatan Exercise in the Islamic City of Marawi." The Marawi City Council Resolution stated that, "Whereas, pre-empting of effect of the U.S. Military Exercises in the territory of the Muslims will ignite their feelings, as well as the non-Muslims for the enhancement of gambling, entail of prostitutions, alcoholism which are totally prohibited in the entire province of Lanao del Sur and the Islamic City of Marawi." It said that the "peaceloving people of the Islamic City of Marawi as well as the Province of Lanao del Sur absolutely oppose/object to the Balikatan Exercises of the U.S. Military Forces...." Several Municipal Councils in Lanao del Sur such as the Municipality of Ditsa-an Ramain have likewise passed official resolutions (dated Jan. 30, 2008) prohibiting Balikatan exercises and U.S. military forces from their territories. Many local officials, uztadzs and prominent personalities among the Moro people have led protest rallies against the intrusion of U.S. military forces into their communities.

Davao City since 2003 has officially declared itself as free from U.S. Special Operations Forces and Balikatan exercises. No less than Davao City Mayor Rodrigo R. Duterte has banned U.S. military personnel and Balikatan exercises from the city.
The Sisters' Association of Mindanao (SAMIN) and the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, Philippine Province, have issued statements against Balikatan exercises in Mindanao, where 25 military exercises have been launched since 2002. In their statement dated Feb.14 2008, SAMIN asked, "Will U.S. troops participate in actual military operations against our people as they did in other places? Will there be another Nicole, and will our women and children again be made 'objects' for the U.S. soldiers' rest and recreation?"
In the Lanao provinces, the broad multi-sectoral Ranao Crescent Against Balikatan Exercises (RACABE) has been formed and has spearheaded protest actions against the intrusions by U.S. personnel into their community. In their statement, RACABE emphasized that "the presence of U.S. troops in Lanao will be a serious threat to the ongoing peace process in Mindanao since the U.S. troops organize counterinsurgency groups.... On the one hand, it will awaken painful memories of the past American invasions of the Ranao areas such as the massacres in Padang Karbala of Bayang, Lanao del Sur (during the first decade of the 20th century) that almost wiped out all the able bodied men in the said municipality except for seven who were either minors or infirm, in Tugaya, Lanao del Sur and Pantar, Lanao del Norte that may trigger violent retaliatory actions against U.S. troops."

U.S. troops are back, we are told, "to train, to assist and to advise Philippine counterparts in anti-terror operations" and, "to increase their interoperability, that is, working together with their Philippine counterparts." The VFA Commission and Fil-Am officers in the U.S. Army who have been assigned to be their spokespersons, tell us that U.S. soldiers are here "not to fight, but to train, to conduct humanitarian missions." But since 2002, the Mafioso in Malacañang has practically invited the U.S. military forces to intervene through unspecified "activities" in Batanes, Nueva Ecija, Tarlac, Aurora, Pampanga, Zambales, Cebu, Palanan, Zamboanga del Sur, Lanao del Sur, North Cotabato, South Cotabato, Basilan, Sulu, Cavite, Albay, and Camarines Sur.

AFP Acting like Security Guards to U.S. Forces and Facilities
Weeks ago, there was an interesting news item about the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police doing the work of security guards to certain mining companies in Zambales. But since 2001, the AFP has been acting like security guards to the visiting U.S. forces in the Philippines, including the Joint Special Operations Task Force - Philippines (JSOTF-P) that is now based in Camp Navarro at the Southern Command Headquarters. Other U.S. Special Forces facilities are now positioned inside Philippine army camps in Camp Malagutay, Zamboanga; in Basilan, Sulu, General Santos City and in Cotabato, among many locations. The repositioning of small U.S. military facilities inside a host country's army or military camps is a novel idea to hide these facilities from public view and to make it appear that there are no "U.S. operating bases" in the country. Herbert Docena, in two recent excellent studies titled, UNCONVENTIONAL WARFARE, and AT THE DOOR OF THE EAST (The Philippines in U.S. Military Strategy) states that U.S.government documents now describe these "U.S. operating bases" here as "Cooperative Security Locations (CLS)" which are described as military installations which have already been established in the Philippines. The U.S. Overseas Basing Commission, an official U.S. government agency that reviews U.S. overseas military infrastructure in fact considers these installations as "U.S. forward operating bases."
Spying and "Activities" by U.S. Military & Civilian personnel
U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOFs) in uniform and in civilian clothes have also been seen in actual war zones in Mindanao and other parts of the country. P-3C Orion surveillance planes have been sited in many parts of ARMM and in certain Mindanao provinces, as well as the use of the RQ-1 Predator, the unmanned spyplanes. On Oct. 3, 2005, workers of Puregold Duty Free Shop at Clark found a crashed unmanned spy plane on their roof. The unmanned spy plane had a sticker marked, "104 Pointer Spy Plane" and was equipped with camera, recording devices and other sophisticated equipment.
U.S. SOFs who are trained for low-intensity warfare operations, are involved in what is referred to as 'asymmetrical warfare' in our communities they are trying to infiltrate. They combine public relations, intelligence gathering, civic action, road/infrastructure projects, psychological operations and counter-insurgency to destroy the people's movements at the grassroots which is struggling for land, ancestral domain and social justice. These "activities" are under the guise of being part of the "war on terror".
Why then, are U. S. Military Forces in Mindanao?

1. First, they are here to engage in covert combat operations, in addition to the mission of "training, assisting, advising and supporting Philippine counterinsurgency operations." Their direct involvement is through covert or clandestine operations. It is an indirect involvement, because U.S. officials are worried that if they directly engage in counterguerrilla operations, they could suffer many casualties and this could have serious political repercussions both here and in the United States. They know that it also fuels Philippine nationalism against foreign forces directly involved in local combat operations. In the March 1, 2003 issue of the Los Angeles Times, an unnamed high ranking Philippine military official in Mindanao, when asked about the political repercussions should U.S. military forces suffer casualties in the course of combat missions in Philippine war zones, said, "We could always cover it up." Furthermore, the Philippine Constitution bans foreign troops to be involved in local combat operations and the Philippine Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that U.S. troops are not allowed to engage in actual combat, but may only be allowed here for training activities under the VFA. Again, it is noteworthy to note though that the VFA itself only vaguely, allows U.S. visiting forces to engage in unspecified "activities" and the word training is not even mentioned.
2. Specifically, they are here to engage in high tech and on-the-ground surveillance and spying operations. This was why, in a Washington Post interview three years ago, former U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Francis Ricciardone admitted that "a strategic support branch of U.S. intelligence had been formed in the Philippines with 70 U.S. spies working with the Philippine Southern Command to bring intelligence for the AFP and law-enforcement disposal as part of our ongoing cooperation against terrorism." This is what they call " OPS-INTEL Fusion," where technical surveillance operators link up rural areas with computers, linking up data from the U.S. from outside to profile their target groups, landscape, identities, fingerprints, photos as part of technical intelligence. The surveys profiled in these technical operations are often operated by either technical staff of Special Operations Forces or civilian personnel of the U.S. National Security Agency, Department of Defense or even FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation). Of course, there is also human intelligence developed on the ground through MEDCAPS or Medical Civic Action Program, medical-dental missions, and other so-called humanitarian missions conducted by U.S. Special Operations Forces who are specialists in counterinsurgency and low intensity conflict warfare. Through these seemingly "humanitarian activities" where government does not render any basic services due to corruption, while being able to penetrate remote communities, and develop their intelligence assets. These activities by these U.S. military and civilian operatives also serve not only as a camouflage for covert and clandestine operations, but also as a public relations program crudely disguised as "Project Bayanihan."

3. Selling U.S. military hardware with Balikatan exercises as show-windows
During joint military exercises, U.S. forces are able to display their latest firepower to their Philippine counterparts which they later offer for sale. This is why a close U.S. ally, Australia, was also prodded to forge a similar Visiting Forces Agreement with the Philippines (modeled after the US-RP VFA) so it could engage in regular joint military exercises and to accelerate the sale of its combat patrol boats which are suited for riverine and coastal warfare and operations.
4. Mindanao as laboratory for many COIN operations

Mindanao has been used as a laboratory for past counter-insurgency (COIN) campaigns by the AFP and their U.S. military advisers, such as those for vigilante groups in the 1980s and lately Oplan Bantay Laya I which was first tested in ARMM and then later expanded to cover the entire country as a nationwide operational plan.
5. Using infrastructure projects in the Philippines for U.S. military force projection and intervention
On the other hand, the engineering and construction projects, airfields and wharfs (daungan) structurally designed and with specifications for large vessels being poured by the USAID's (U.S. Agency for International Development) Mindanao Assistance Program and GEM (Growth with Equity in Mindanao) program such as the ones in Saranggani Bay, are meant to provide support for and accommodate the large U.S. naval vessels and combat aircraft for operations here and abroad. The communities are "softened" with GEM projects of USAID to be penetrated for the access of U.S. troops. The Philippines is once again a springboard for intervention by U.S. military forces especially the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Forces based in Okinawa, Japan. The Marine Expeditionary Forces are the mainstay of U.S. interventionary forces and they are now also regularly trained here during the so-called Balikatan exercises. And of course under the VFA and MLSA, the Philippines has been made once again into a communications, surveillance, training and most important, logistical supply base for U.S. interventionary forces against our neighbors.
We have experienced the impact of U.S. military presence and bases before – the loss of self-determination, human rights and sovereignty, as well as the degradation of culture, values, health and environmental destruction as a host nation. Our women and children will surely be sacrificed for the "rest and recreational" needs of foreign soldiers wanting to boost their morale. And only a few domestic elites who are subcontracted by the U.S. military actually benefit from the much vaunted economic benefits, for they are the ones owning if not controlling the base-related businesses. For the U.S., their military presence here allows them to wage illegal wars and military interventions (locally and against other nations) to advance their corporate and strategic interests especially in Mindanao.
The Challenges and What is to be Done?

In the face of the rabid attempts by the Mafioso in Malacañang to restore a permanent foreign military presence, let us therefore prepare for the following challenges:
1. Monitor closely U.S. troop movements, activities and covert/secret operations , and expose public violations of the VFA and Philippine laws.
2. Forge and strengthen our solidarity with the American people who oppose war and intervention overseas.
3. Make it intolerable/unbearable for U.S. military forces and their civilian spies to stay any longer in Mindanao and the rest of the country.
4. Work for the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement , the Mutual Logistics and Support Agreement, and the Mutual Defense Treaty and all other official and secret onerous agreements that mock and compromise the dignity of our country as a sovereign nation.

But it must not just be the illegal foreign military forces that must be removed. We must come to the realization that the incorrigible Mafioso that invited these illegal foreign military forces in the first place to roam around our country to trample on the dignity of our women, people and nation, is occupying Malacañang illegally and must ultimately be removed. This is the only way we can restore our national dignity and true sovereignty.

*The author was recently the guest speaker of the launching of the 'U.S. Troops OUT NOW! Coalition in Mindanao' held in Valencia, Bukidnon, Cagayan de Oro City, Davao City and Cotabato City this February 2008.

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