NO MORE LIES: ON THE CONTINUED PRESENCE OF U.S. TROOPS IN THE PHILIPPINES
Privilege Speech by Rep. Satur C. Ocampo
Bayan Muna, Party List, House of Representatives, Congress of the Philippines, August 5, 2002
I rise on an urgent issue of personal and collective privilege.
Mr. Speaker and distinguished colleagues, Philippine sovereignty and territorial integrity are primordial national concerns. The Filipino people deserve to know the truth about matters of profound significance to us, such as the continued presence of US military forces in our country since January under the pretext of being engaged in joint military exercises.
Yet, on the many questions raised over this issue the Arroyo administration has been treating us –the members of the legislature and the people we represent–cavalierly if not with contempt. Most recently, many of us here have demanded full disclosure of the proposed Mutual Logistics Support Arrangement(MLSA) but have been repeatedly rebuffed.
For almost a year now we have been subjected to an endless stream of deception, disinformation, duplicity and doublespeak about the presence of US military forces on Philippine soil.
Why does the administration seem so determined to circumvent the explicit Constitutional ban on foreign military troops, bases and facilities in the country? Article XVIII, Section 25 of the 1987 Constitution provides exception only under a treaty ratified by the Senate or by the majority of the people in a national referendum, and recognized as a treaty by the other contracting State.
Let us review the developments on this issue in the past months.
First, the administration said that the US military advisers who arrived soon after the September 11, 2002 terrorist attacks in the United States were here to see what kind of military assistance the US could give the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). But it turns out that they assessed the status of military operations against the bandit Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) and recommended US involvement in such operations in what was billed as a “second front” of the US “war against terrorism.”
Next, the administration said only a few hundred US soldiers would be coming for an ordinary training exercise. But it turns out that some 1,500 US troops came and 160 Special Operations Forces (SOF) soldiers were deployed — first at battalion, later at company level — in offensive combat operations against the ASG. This, despite the fact that RP and US military doctrines clearly state that “training exercises” are not to be conducted in actual battle zones, against real enemy forces and using live ammunition.
Then the administration said that the so-called exercises would last six months until July 31, 2002. Yes, “Balikatan 02-1” officially ended on July 31. Yet the US troops spokesperson, Major Richard Sater, announced that 160 US SOF troops would remain in Basilan until October, with 900 more soldiers to be stationed in Zamboanga and Cebu. Sater pointed out that these US troops would monitor the first phase of the “Long Term Security Assistance Plan” which, according to Admiral Thomas Fargo, commander-in-chief of the US Pacific Command, begins in October.
If that were so, these 1,060 US troops would remain in the country long after Balikatan 02-1. For how could they monitor the implementation of the Long Term Security Assistance Plan if they left by October?
And there’s more. AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Roy Cimatu said that, starting in October, an undetermined number of US military advisers would spend nine months not only in Mindanao but in Luzon as well for the next round of “counter-terrorism” operations.
You may ask, Mr. Speaker, and distinguished colleagues, as I do ask: Is the continued stay of these US forces covered by a corresponding Terms of Reference or TOR, as was Balikatan 02-1? Nothing has been said on this matter.
Meanwhile, under President Arroyo’s “unequivocal commitment to a partnership with the US in a war on terrorism,” Philippine facilities like Clark and Subic have been freely used by the US for transit, refueling, re-supply, and staging operations in its war of aggression against Afghanistan called “Operation Enduring Freedom.” Admiral Fargo has described such assistance as “highly valuable,” which underscores the importance of the Philippines as a staging post and springboard for the US in the wars it has launched, and will launch, against any country.
Yet, the fact remains that the Philippines has not declared war on Afghanistan. Neither has the Philippines declared any of the other nations tagged by the US as its next target of attack, such as Iraq, as our enemy.
The Arroyo administration and US officials routinely invoke the 1951 RP-US Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) and the 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) to justify the series of Balikatan exercises. But the MDT and the VFA explicitly provide only for joint militlary actions and training exercises aimed at defending the Philippines from external aggression.
The bandit ASG is clearly a purely internal security problem, not an external aggressor. By all means, let us address their villainy but let us do so by addressing them squarely and not in a way which gives the US a pretext for interfering in our affairs.
Mr. Speaker, the Bayan Muna representation believes that any participation of US troops in domestic military operations constitutes interference in the internal affairs of the Philippines. Yes, regardless in whatever capacity such operations are carried out — whether in combat (offensive or defensive operations), combat support (intelligence, communications, engineering) or combat service support (training, logistics, medical, civic action).
The Bayan Muna representation also believes that the declared enemies of the US against whom it wages war are neither automatically nor necessarily the enemies of the Philippines and the Filipino people.
Mr. Speaker, all these points raised by this representation call for deep and meticulous inquiry to ascertain the true nature and extent of the US forces’ presence in the Philippines, in connection with the US’ “war against terrorism.” We need to know the truth so that we can judge whether these activities are in consonance with the 1987 Constitution, the MDT, the VFA and other documents being invoked.
Ascertaining the truth has not been possible so far because instead of straight answers we have been subjected to cheap propaganda gimmicks and non sequiturs. We want to know what the US military forces are doing here.
What are the so-called civic actions covering up? What is the vested interest of the US in building transport infrastructure, permanent structures, installations and facilities? What are the US’ larger geopolitical and military designs for the Philippines?
Indeed, Mr. Speaker, these facts are of the greatest relevance in ascertaining the Constitutional implications of such agreements as the proposed MLSA being secretly prepared by the administration and the US. The conspiratorial nature of the preparations, and the attempt to portray the MLSA as a mere logistics accounting arrangement, make us suspect that the access to and use of facilities they propose has a darker, deeper purpose.
At the very least we know that the 1999 VFA and the inevitable 2002 MLSA will let the US have troops, ships, planes, war and related materiel in and out of the country as convenient for them. In effect, the Philippines will have become a virtual US military base without a formal treaty.
At worst, Mr. Speaker, we fear that the VFA and MLSA may be stepping stones towards the eventual establishment of a larger and more permanent US military presence in the country. US bases, in short, sooner or later depending on when the the US will insist on them.
With all these in mind, we in Bayan Muna are filing a resolution directing the House Committees on Foreign Affairs, Nationald Defense and Civil, Political and Human Rights, in line with the exercise of the oversight powers of Congress, to undertake a review and assessment of the implementation of the Terms of Reference governing the recently concluded Balikatan exercises, including the true extent and nature and the implications on human rights of such exercises.
We also seek an inquiry into the legal and constitutional basis of the continued presence of US military forces in the country even after the termination of the Balikatan exercises last July 31, 2002, as well as on the human rights implications of the “training” given by the US Special Operations Forces (SOF).
We invite all of our distinguished colleagues to join us in this resolution. We need to be better informed of the real situation. We need to know the real extent of Philippine involvement in the US’ war strategy before we are dragged deeper into becoming America’s staging grounds for its wars. We must uphold national sovereignty and defend human rights.
Hard questions must be asked and we need straight answers. The truth must be told.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
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