CITIZENS PEACE WATCH FACT-FINDING MISSION STATEMENT
The truth about US basing and involvement in combat is emerging; the time to act is now.
Disturbed by the evident duplicity on the part of the US and Philippine governments on the issue and dismayed by the failure of our elected representatives to act, we, members of the Citizens Peace Watch, have taken the initiative to probe deeper into the issue of US basing and intervention in the Philippines. From February 18 to 21, we traveled to Zamboanga City and Sulu for a fact-finding mission.
As citizens, we have the right to information and to transparency, especially on such an issue with deep implications on our welfare, on peace, and on our sovereignty. We decry the decision of the US and Philippine military officials to ignore and to effectively reject our requests for interviews and inspection of US military facilities in the country. Their unwillingness to face us and to address our questions has only reinforced our suspicion that they have something to hide.
Despite their refusal to meet with us, what we have gathered in our mission – through our meetings with various local residents and civil society groups who directly bear the impact of and witness the actions of the US military in their localities – has deepened our concern that:
n the US has established military basing in the Philippines
We saw with our own eyes the US military base inside the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Camp Navarro in Zamboanga City. It is a base within a base – off-limits to Filipino citizens like us and restricted even to Filipino troops, as admitted by a Filipino soldier – but a US military base by any definition. We have found that the base belongs to the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines, a US military unit that has been stationed in the country continuously since 2002. It is composed mostly of US Special Forces troops with teams deployed in small groups to various Philippine military camps and embedded within Philippine military battalions throughout Mindanao so as not to become conspicuous. We note that the presence of such a base directly violates the 1987 Constitution which expressly prohibits foreign military bases in the country and reverses the Filipino people’s decision to end US military presence in the Philippines in 1991.
n the US is involved in actual combat operations in the country
We went to Barangay Ipil, Maimbung, Sulu and spoke directly with witnesses and some of the relatives of the nine people, including a pregnant woman and two children, massacred by the Philippine military. We note that at least one person, Rawina Wahid, the widow of one of the victims who also directly witnessed the massacre, has claimed that US troops were present during the operation. Apart from them, we also spoke with a number of other residents who also claimed to have seen US troops in the vicinity of the fighting in other operations in other parts of Sulu.
We reject the false dichotomy being set by the US and Philippine governments between indirect and direct combat. We stress that US troops themselves describe their mission in Sulu as “unconventional warfare” and “counter-insurgency” – and not just as humanitarian missions or as training exercises. We note that US troops themselves are known to collect “actionable intelligence,” operate spy planes, remove landmines, transport casualties, and undertake other actions as part of joint US-Philippine military operations. We maintain that all these constitute involvement in “actual combat” – something barred by the Philippine Constitution, as affirmed by the Supreme Court.
n the US military has, in complicity with the Philippine military, committed human rights violations in the Philippines
In taking part in “actual combat”, US troops should also be held accountable various human rights violations blamed on the Philippine military by local residents, including specifically the latest massacre of civilians in Maimbung, as well as other various incidents in the past.
n the US is conducting operations outside the control of the Philippine government and military
We spoke directly with Dr. Silak Lakkian, director of the Panamao District Hospital, who recounted how US troops ordered the closure of the hospital for a month and threatened to shoot anyone who defies their order – without the consent or knowledge of the Philippine military. This incident has revealed that the US military is also conducting operations unilaterally outside the control of the Philippine government. This, and other incidents, also raise questions about the relationship between the US and Philippine military, as to who is superior and who is subordinate. With Filipino majors being made to act effectively as security guards for US sergeants, the question of command is an unresolved question that needs further investigation.
n the US military’s so-called humanitarian projects are mere cover for military operations that do not benefit the local population
The US troops’ order to close the Panamao District Hospital and deprive a town of about 40,000 people of medical care every night for about a month has undermined the US military’s so-called humanitarian concern for the people of Sulu. We were informed that in one incident, US troops even handed out expired medicines to locals. We were also told that the US’ infrastructure projects appear to be intended more for the US military than for the local population: Various wharves constructed in Sulu, for example, are too large for locals’ small pumpboats and fishing vessels and are more suited for larger ships – indicating that they were constructed more for the US military in mind than for the locals’. We note that the US’ so-called humanitarian and engineering projects have military aims for “winning hearts and minds” and are considered by the US military as integral to “counter-insurgency.” We are concerned that such projects are effectively bribes to lure an impoverished people – deprived essential services and infrastructure by the Philippine government – to support US military objectives in their desperation.
n US basing and intervention in the country is contributing to insecurity and leading to an escalation in conflict
We spoke with officials and members of the Moro National Liberation Front, whose fragile peace agreement with the government has been continuously undermined in the last few years. They told us, in no uncertain terms, that they now see the US military – because of their obvious support for the Philippine military in their operations against them and against the Moro people – as enemies. We note how, in fact, in various incidents, Philippine military offensives that were claimed by Filipino officials as being aimed against the so-called Abu Sayyaf group turned out to be aimed against MNLF fighters or civilians.
We also note how, elsewhere in Mindanao, US military presence is viewed with trepidation and outright opposition by locals, especially in light of the impasse in the negotiations between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. We are concerned that US military support for the Philippine military in their operations against Moros further undermines the peace agreement and the peace negotiations. By supporting one side in the conflict, the US draws the parties away from a just and lasting resolution to the war and could even potentially trigger an escalation. If US forces are seen as enemies and are targeted as such, and the US finds the justification to retaliate, the conditions are ripe for a wider, more destructive war.
Now that the truth about US military basing and intervention in the Philippines is emerging, and its dangerous implications on us becoming clearer, it is time to act. With the US expanding its presence beyond Sulu to more areas in Mindanao, acting becomes even more urgent.
We challenge our elected representatives to take the initiative to demand and conduct Congressional and Senate inquiries into the issue.
Meanwhile, we demand the suspension of US military deployment to the Philippines, specifically the stationing of the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines as well as the military exercises, pending fair and independent review of and investigations on their presence and intervention.
We in the Citizens Peace Watch resolve to step up our efforts to understand, monitor, and scrutinize US military presence and intervention in the country.
We call on concerned Filipinos, civil society groups, and social movements to join us in our quest for transparency, and for peace. The truth about US military basing and intervention in the Philippines will not come from governments determined to conceal it; we will have to pursue it ourselves.#
21 February 2008
CITIZENS’ PEACE WATCH
Akbayan! Party-list | Alyansa ng Kabataan sa Mindanao para sa Kapayapaan | Anak Mindanao Party List | Balay Rehabilitation Center | Bangsamoro Women’s Foundation | Citizen’s Coalition for Human Rights | Focus on the Global South | KaisaKa | Kilusan para sa Pambansang Demokrasya | Lanao Alliance of Human Rights Advocates | Mindanao Peoples Caucus | Mindanao Peoples Peace Movement | Mindanao Tri-People Women Forum | Moro Human Rights Center | Muslim Women’s Organization | Peace Women Partners | Peacebuilders Community | Pinay Kilos | Resource Center for People’s Development | STOP the War Coalition Philippines | Sumpay Mindanao | Task Force Detainees of the Philippines | Tulong Lupah Sug, Inc
The date posted here is due to our website rebuild, it does not reflect the original date this article was posted. This article was originally posted in Yonip on Mar. 03rd 2008