Mar 092013
 

 

The United States in the Philippines (Again)

Stephen R. Shalom

Within days after the first U.S. bombs fell on Afghanistan, Washington revealed another site for its “war against terrorism”: the Philippines. U.S. military personnel were to be sent to that southeast Asian nation to aid in the fight against Abu Sayyaf, a small group of Islamic extremists that U.S. officials linked to al‑Qaeda.

A few U.S. soldiers soon began arriving, but the scale of U.S. involvement did not become evident until January. That month the Pentagon announced that the operation would involve more than 600 U.S. troops, including 160 special forces, who would go to the southern Philippines to train and advise the Philippine army in its efforts to wipe out Abu Sayyaf. This was, noted Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, “not a modest number” of troops. Indeed, the New York Times (1/16) called it “the largest single deployment of American military might outside Afghanistan to fight terrorists since the Sept. 11 attacks.” And the U.S. officer in charge of the mission was further indication of its importance: Brig. Gen. Donald C. Wurster of the Air Force, the head of all Special Operations forces in the Pacific.

“Military training” and “military advisers” might suggest images of U.S. soldiers providing classroom instruction to Philippine troops, or U.S. officers meeting with their Philippine counterparts in headquarters in Manila to discuss fine points of strategy and tactics. But this training and advising is going to be done on the ground, in combat areas of the southern Philippines. Armed U.S. advisers, with authority to fire in self‑defense, will be accompanying Philippine troops in the field as they go after Abu Sayyaf.

Based mainly on Basilan and Jolo, small islands in the southern Philippines, the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) has an appalling record of bombings, killings, and kidnappings for ransom. In March 2000 it kidnapped some 50 Filipinos, mostly schoolchildren; in May 2000, two dozen people were seized from a neighboring Malaysian resort, and in May 2001, 20 tourists were kidnapped from a Philippine resort. Some of the hostages were killed; most were released after large ransom payments. One American was killed and two others ‑‑ a missionary couple ‑‑ remain in captivity along with a Filipina nurse.

International Connections

Clearly Abu Sayyaf is an unsavory outfit. But what about its current connections to al‑Qaeda? Immediately after September 11, some Philippine officials pointed to ties between ASG and al‑Qaeda. Chief of staff General Diomedio Villanueva declared that Abu Sayyaf could not have survived without continuing support from al Qaeda. “He said the recent spate of kidnappings by the Abu Sayyaf guerrillas was part of the fingerprints of the al Qaeda organisation of Osama which will not stop at anything” (Channel NewsAsia [CNA], 9/28). Of course, kidnappings for ransom had no similarity whatsoever to al‑Qaeda operations, but it is easy to understand Villanueva’s eagerness to suggest an al‑Qaeda link. Filipinos had been extremely critical of the failure of their armed forces to deal with Abu Sayyaf, and there were credible stories of military officers letting Abu Sayyaf guerrillas escape, perhaps as a result of payoffs. Another motive for detecting an al‑Qaeda connection was indicated in a story in the Toronto Star (11/3):

“… the Philippines also has a clear agenda of its own ‑ to win U.S. approval for an ambitious shopping list of military equipment long coveted by the army.

“That may explain the flurry of hints from police offering tantalizing connections between Abu Sayyaf and Al Qaeda, which have sent the local media into a frenzy. But in recent days, there has been furious backtracking by senior government officials, who now acknowledge there is no solid evidence of any continuing links between Abu Sayyaf and Afghanistan.”

In late October, Philippine Presidential spokesperson Rigoberto Tiglao expressed his frustration at claims that Abu Sayyaf was at present part of an active al‑Qaeda network in the Philippines. “Of course there are historical ties, but our investigations have yielded no signs that these international terrorists are at work here” (Christian Science Monitor, 10/26). A week later, Philippine national security adviser Roilo Golez stated that “We have no evidence that Abu Sayyaf has gotten financing from bin Laden recently. Otherwise, they would not have had to resort to kidnapping” (NYT, 11/4).

On November 20, Philippine President Gloria Macapagal‑Arroyo spoke at a press conference in Washington, DC:

“QUESTION: Is there any intelligence evidence that Al Qaeda elements in your country are helping the Abu Sayyaf movement at this point?

“MACAPAGAL‑ARROYO: Well, there’s evidence of connection between them and the Abu Sayyaf up to 1995. In fact, in 1995, our police officers were able to arrest some link ‑‑ some people who were linked to both and uncovered documentary evidence which in fact led to the conviction of the first [1993] bombers of the World Trade Center.

“QUESTION: Any current evidence though?

“MACAPAGAL‑ARROYO: Well, after 1995 ‑‑ or after that arrest, after the testimony that our policemen gave, the [inaudible] organizations that we know of, Al Qaeda, left the Philippines. I think they found the Philippines not hospitable for international terrorists.”

Regardless of the level of Philippine hospitality, the crucial event took place in 1998, when the founder of Abu Sayyaf, Abdurajak Janjalani, was killed in a firefight with the military. Possibly a veteran of the anti‑Soviet holy war in Afghanistan organized by the United States and Pakistan, Janjalani had studied in Saudi Arabia and Libya and was a committed Islamic ideologue. Upon his death, his brother, Khadafy Janjalani, took over Abu Sayyaf and turned it into a mercenary organization. These are, observed Philippine Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes, “businessman terrorists. They’re doing it for money” (CNA, 10/12). Most experts agree. Marites Vitug, co‑author of a book on Philippine Muslim rebels, says, “The former leader had some ideological moorings. Now Abu Sayyef are just criminals” (Age, 5/6/00). Frank J. Cilluffo, a Senior Policy Analyst with the conservative Center for Strategic & International Studies, testified in April 2001 that when Abu Sayyaf kidnapped a group of foreigners, they included demands for an independent Muslim state and the release of terrorists connected to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, from US prisons. “But at the end of the day they ‘settled’ for $1 million per hostage.”

It is useful to look at what U.S. officials had to say about Abu Sayyaf before September 11. On June 12, 2001, the State Department’s deputy spokesperson, Phillip T. Reeker, was asked about the international connections of Abu Sayyaf. Reeker referred the questioner to the Department’s Patterns of Global Terrorism report, and then quoted an extract mentioning nothing about international connections. A follow‑up query inquired if there was “a bin Laden connection to this group?” Reeker again directed the questioner to the Patterns of Global Terrorism report.

Turning to the April 2001 report, one finds very little detail. “Some ASG members have studied or worked in the Middle East and developed ties to mujahidin while fighting and training in Afghanistan.” And “Probably receives support from Islamic extremists in the Middle East and South Asia.” That’s it.

Mark Landler of the New York Times (11/4), interviewed “local government officials, Muslim leaders, scholars and aid workers” in the Philippines who indicated that any links to al‑Qaeda “are tenuous.” USA Today reported on January 17 that “Terrorism experts, including those who support Bush’s decision to target the Philippines, say Abu Sayyaf’s connections to Osama bin Laden and al‑Qaeda are questionable.” The article quoted Derek Mitchell, a former Clinton administration Pentagon official, now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies: “I’m not sure anyone really knows for sure or has proof of deep ties.” And Indira A.R. Lakshmanan of the Boston Globe (BG, 1/26) reported that “Interviews with senior Philippine military, intelligence, and political officials and internal intelligence memos suggest that Abu Sayyaf’s purported links to Osama bin Laden or other sources of international funding and training are obsolete or tenuous, at best.” She quotes from an intelligence memo prepared after September 11, indicating that following the death of Abdurajak Janjalani in December 1998, Abu Sayyaf “veered from its ideological orientation and degenerated into a criminal group and engaged in extortion, kidnap‑for‑ransom, and robbery.”

If this seems like rather thin evidence on which to posit an on‑going al‑Qaeda connection, reports of Abu Sayyaf numbers are also questionable. Many refer to 2,000 ASG guerrillas, not noticing that this figure reflects outdated information. On January 15, Philippine ambassador Albert del Rosario stated on National Public Radio that “their numbers in terms of their core group we believe has been reduced within the last few months from over 1,200 to less than a hundred.” Lt. Gen. Roy Cimatu, the armed forces commander in the southern Philippines, puts the number of armed Abu Sayyaf at about 80 (NYT, 12/30) ‑‑ or about one for every million Filipinos.

But even if current al‑Qaeda links are dubious and the numbers nearly negligible, one might still ask what’s wrong with the United States sending military advisers to help deal with an undoubtedly brutal gang, even if it is, in President Macapagal‑Arroyo’s words (USA Today, 1/17), “a money‑crazed gang of criminals without any ideology.”

There are in fact many reasons for objecting to the U.S. deployment.

The “Disagreeable Side”

First, there is the matter of harm to innocent civilians in Basilan and Jolo. Even without U.S. participation, military operations against Abu Sayyaf have been disastrous for the local population. With U.S. participation, the situation will likely be even worse.

In September and October of 2000, the Philippine Armed Forces (AFP) launched an all‑out offensive against Abu Sayyaf on the island of Jolo. Amnesty International reported that “At least 80,000 civilians were reported to have fled their homes to escape armed clashes and bombardments, often apparently indiscriminate. Although difficult to corroborate, there were persistent reports of human rights violations by the military, including extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrests and ‘disappearances’ of suspected Abu Sayyaf members.” These reports were difficult to corroborate, said Amnesty, “because the armed forces control access to affected areas and all telephone lines, including mobile networks, have been cut.” Amnesty called for the immediate halt of indiscriminate bombing of the civilian population: “No security crisis can justify a military offensive which involves the killing of civilians.”

But wouldn’t U.S. participation minimize the risk to civilians? The historical record in this regard is not very reassuring. A century ago, the United States fought a bloody war to colonize the Philippines. Most of the country was pacified by 1902, but fighting continued in the Muslim areas of the south. Good old American know‑how lent a hand, as the Colt .45 was developed especially for repulsing charges by fanatic Muslim warriors. In 1906, U.S. forces under the command of General Leonard Wood carried out a major massacre, killing some 600 men, women, and children at Bud Dajo on the island of Jolo. Wood confided to President Teddy Roosevelt: “Work of this kind has its disagreeable side, which is the unavoidable killing of women and children. But it must be done, and disagreeable as it is, there is no avoiding it” (quoted by Andrew J. Bacevich, Los Angeles Times, 1/22).

One doesn’t have to go into the history books to see that U.S. officials are not reluctant to order the killing of civilians, especially when the lives of U.S. soldiers are at stake. Thus, in Somalia in 1993 U.S. forces slaughtered several thousand Somalis when a Black Hawk helicopter went down. And in Afghanistan, as Marc Herold has documented, thousands of Afghan civilians have been victims of U.S. bombs, as Pentagon officials have cavalierly dismissed the eyewitness reports of journalists and human rights groups as unworthy of attention.

Note that in the last three of these examples, the dead civilians were people that Washington was allegedly trying to help ‑‑ victims of Somali warlords or the Taliban. There is no reason to expect U.S. officials to be any more solicitous of the lives of Philippine civilians, particularly if U.S. “advisers” come under fire or, even worse, are captured by Abu Sayyaf. One can assume the same care will be taken to avoid harm to the Muslim population of Basilan, Jolo, or Mindanao as was taken, for example, in the Afghan village of Kama Ado, where Robert Lloyd Parry of the London Independent (12/4) saw 40 fresh graves and the clearly marked remains of a U.S. bomb in a friendly village that the Pentagon continually insisted that it hadn’t hit.

Bearing the Sword

Abu Sayyaf means “bearer of the sword” ‑‑ but the second reason to oppose the deployment of U.S. special forces is that it will make the sword the preferred response to Muslim grievances.

Muslims make up about seven percent of the Philippine population (the exact figure is contested) and they are concentrated in the south of the country. (Islam arrived in the Philippines just as Spain established its colonial rule in the 16th century; the Spanish were able to check the spread of Islam and convert most of the population to Catholicism, but they were never able to subjugate the Muslims, whom they called Moros.) Muslim lands and customs were increasingly encroached upon after Philippine independence in 1946. In parts of the northern and central islands of the archipelago, population density was exceedingly high and many peasants were tenant farmers. Large numbers of Christian Filipinos moved to the south, where they were able to use Christian‑controlled laws, courts, and police to grab land from Muslims. The government promoted resettlement efforts as a way to reduce revolutionary sentiments among the peasantry ‑‑ much as the frontier in the United States provided a safety valve for social pressures in eastern cities. After a while Christians became the majority in most southern provinces. Today, only five of the country’s 73 provinces has a Muslim majority, as does only one city out of 61. And the majority Muslim areas are among the poorest in the country ‑‑ with the worst socio‑economic conditions ‑‑ in a country where the gap between rich and poor is immense.

After Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in 1972, a full‑scale Muslim revolt broke out, led by the More National Liberation Front, MNLF – the word “Moro” adopted as a term of pride. Marcos, with U.S. military aid, responded ruthlessly, but Muslim nations (with their new found oil influence) applied pressure and mediated a settlement. In 1976 Marcos and the MNLF signed the Tripoli Agreement which provided for some degree of autonomy for Philippine Muslims. Marcos, however, never carried out his end of the agreement, and fighting resumed, though at a lower level.

In 1984, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, MILF, split off from the MNLF. Where the MNLF was a largely secular organization ‑‑ indeed, it included Christians among its ranks ‑‑ the MILF was avowedly Islamic. The two groups also tended to draw their membership from different ethnic groups. The MNLF has had official observer status at the Organization of the Islamic Conference (representing the world’s Muslim countries) since 1977; the MILF failed to receive such status in 2000. In 1991, Abdurajak Janjalani founded Abu Sayyaf, much smaller than the other two groups, and originally committed to achieving Muslim independence through holy war, but, as noted above, after Janjalani’s death in 1998, committed more to banditry and kidnapping. Abu Sayyaf’s actions have been condemned by both the MNLF and the MILF.

In 1987, after the fall of Marcos, the MNLF agreed to seek autonomy, rather than independence, for Muslim regions. Implementing autonomy was no simple matter, however, and talks and sporadic fighting continued. Finally, in 1996, the Ramos administration and the MNLF signed a peace agreement providing for an Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) – with provinces and cities entitled to decide by referendum whether they wished to be a part of it. Currently, the ARMM consists of the five Muslim‑majority provinces and Muslim‑majority Marawi City. The MNLF’s long‑time leader, Nur Misuari, was made governor of the ARMM, but in November 2001, amid charges of corruption, he was defeated in elections and he apparently led an uprising of some of his followers in response. He is currently in prison awaiting trial for rebellion.

The MILF rejected the 1996 agreement, insisting on Muslim independence. Desultory talks with the government took place, but in 2000, the administration of Joseph Estrada launched an all‑out war against them. The Philippine Government reported that 477 civilians died as a result of the AFP‑MILF fighting and that nearly 750,000 persons had been displaced; NGO’s put the figure of those displaced at closer to 1 million. According to Amnesty International, there were reports of “indiscriminate aerial and artillery bombardment of civilian areas suspected of containing MILF forces, and of extrajudicial executions, ‘disappearances’ and torture of those thought to have links to the MILF.” Anti‑Muslim animus was clearly evident. In June 2000, according to the U.S. State Department, “following persistent reports that troops operating against Muslim separatists in Mindanao had desecrated mosques, the Secretary of National Defense ordered the AFP to refrain from such action.” And in July 2000, President Estrada celebrated an AFP military victory by holding a pork and beer feast at the former MILF headquarters, in defiance of Muslim dietary restrictions.

In January 2001, Estrada was replaced as president by his vice‑president, Gloria Macapagal‑Arroyo. A cease‑fire was signed between the government and the MILF and talks have been proceeding. Though officially committed to independence, the MILF seems to be willing to accept some form of genuine autonomy. The situation is very delicate, and it is into this volatile state of affairs that Macapagal‑Arroyo is now introducing U.S. special forces.

Those who have been working for Christian‑Muslim reconciliation warn of the potential risks. “Dedeth Suacito, the Catholic coordinator of the Inter‑religious Dialogue Program [in Basilan], lamented that ‘we were making progress’ ‑‑ recalling a joint celebration last month for Christmas and Eid al‑Fitr, the most important Muslim feast day ‑ but that the insertion of US troops ‘will just make the gap wider'” (BG, 1/22). And the Rev. Eliseo R. Mercado Jr., president of Notre Dame University in Mindanao, warned: “The war in Afghanistan has seemed very far away from the Philippines. But now you’ve got American troops in camouflage uniforms going into Muslim villages. In the long run, that will radicalize the Muslims” (NYT, 11/4).

In addition, the MILF worries that the U.S. troops will be used against them. This worry is not entirely baseless. Philippine military and intelligence sources have been releasing a flurry of charges that, not just Abu Sayyaf, but the MILF and Nur Misuari are linked to al‑Qaeda. For those in the military establishment ‑‑ and there are many ‑‑ who oppose any form of Muslim autonomy, the U.S. war on terrorism might provide the basis for revoking the ARMM and for breaking off talks with the MILF. (Similar dynamics are playing out in Somalia, where various warlords have been telling U.S. intelligence of the supposed al‑Qaeda links of their rivals.)

As President Macapagal‑Arroyo and the U.S. government themselves frequently acknowledge, the only long‑term solution to the problem of the Philippines’ Muslim minority is a social and economic one. But Manila and Washington have paid lip‑service to the cause of social reform for years without fundamentally challenging the status quo. The real danger in allowing U.S. troops to deploy in the southern Philippines, in the words of Randy David, one of the Philippines’ most astute observers, is that such a policy “exposes the nation to the dangers of escalating the conflict and to the consequences of privileging a military approach to the complex problems of Muslim Mindanao.”

Moreover, there is another insurgency in the Philippines, this one by the communist New People’s Army (NPA). Philippine Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes predicted that after Philippine and U.S. forces finished off Abu Sayyaf, they would turn their attention to the NPA (Gulf News, 1/17). The NPA, riven by splits, is not the threat it once was; nevertheless, it too feeds off grinding poverty. And it too will never be defeated by military measures, but only by social reforms that empower and address the grievances of the impoverished majority of the Philippine people.

Sovereignty and U.S. Bases

A third reason to oppose the deployment of U.S. troops is the matter of Philippine sovereignty. Some Philippine politicians have dismissed this concern: “What is more important now ‑‑ sovereignty or the lives of our people in the hands of the Abu Sayyaf?” (Philippine Daily Inquirer [PDI] 1/19). But sovereignty is no irrelevant luxury; I’m referring here not to some philosophical abstraction or still less some reflexive opposition to things foreign, but people’s basic right to democratically control their own destiny. Of course, given the grossly unequal distribution of wealth and income in the Philippines, Philippine democracy will inevitably be incomplete. Nevertheless, to the extent that crucial decisions affecting the Philippine people are made not by Filipinos, but by outsiders, to that extent the sovereignty of the Philippine people is compromised. And, to the extent that crucial decisions affecting the Philippine people are made by Philippine officials who, in an effort to please foreign interests, use deceit, manipulation, and end‑runs around the Constitution to carry out their policies, to that extent too the sovereignty of the Philippine people is compromised.

For hundreds of years, Philippine sovereignty was non‑existent, with three and a half centuries of Spanish colonial rule followed by a half century of U.S. colonial rule. But even after formal independence in 1946, foreign domination continued. Washington threatened to deny full rehabilitation payments to its war‑ravaged former colony unless Filipinos amended their constitution to give Americans and U.S. corporations special investment rights. And this arrangement passed the Philippine Congress only after the ruling party illegally ousted several opposition legislators. The Pentagon, with the help of compliant Philippine officials, secured huge military bases ‑‑ Clark Air Base and Subic Naval Base ‑‑ that for years served as the logistic hub for U.S. interventions from Vietnam to the Persian Gulf. Washington, not Manila, decided how these bases would be used and against whom, and the Philippine people were not informed of the presence of nuclear weapons on their soil. Year after year, U.S. officials routinely intervened in domestic Philippine politics, anointing and deposing presidents so as to protect Washington’s economic and military position in the Philippines.

In 1965, Ferdinand Marcos ran for president, declaring during the campaign that he opposed sending any Philippine units to Vietnam to support the U.S. war there. No sooner did Marcos win the election, than he urged the dispatch of a Philippine civic action group to Vietnam. Congressional hearings in the United States in 1969 revealed that in return for Marcos’s cooperation, the U.S. government had supplied him with additional military aid, as well as with some further payments the precise destination of which ‑‑ U.S. officials asserted ‑‑ could not be determined. When, in 1972, a nationalist Supreme Court and Congress seemed to threaten U.S. corporate and military interests, the United States backed Marcos as he imposed martial law. A staff report for the U.S. Senate found that U.S. officials appeared “prepared to accept” that “military bases and a familiar government in the Philippine are more important than the preservation of democratic institutions” and thus Washington was “altogether uncritical” of Marcos’s declaration of martial law. The United States provided the Marcos dictatorship with military aid and diplomatic support (as when Vice President George Bush Sr. toasted Marcos’s “adherence to democratic principle and to the democratic processes”).

The opposition to Marcos ‑‑ moderate and radical alike ‑‑ saw that as long as U.S. military bases remained on Philippine soil, the United States would have a powerful incentive to manipulate or undermine Philippine democracy. And so when Marcos was deposed in the People Power revolt of 1986, the new Constitution drawn up the following year provided that after the U.S.‑Philippine military bases pact expired in 1991, “foreign military bases, troops, or facilities shall not be allowed in the Philippines except under a treaty duly concurred in by the Senate” ‑‑ instead of by executive agreement, as previously.

When a new bases treaty came up for ratification in 1991, U.S. officials lobbied heavily, but the Philippine Senate, reflecting nationalist pressures, rejected the treaty, ending 90 years of U.S. military bases in the Philippines. But even before the last U.S. soldier was gone in 1992, Washington began maneuvering to obtain continued access to the Philippines in another form. In 1999, Washington made limited progress in this regard when a Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) was concluded between the two nations, over strong nationalist opposition; the VFA allowed U.S. forces back in the country for training missions. Under this agreement some joint U.S.‑Philippine military exercises have been held, but they have been of short duration and held well outside the area of any actual military operations.

The Macapagal‑Arroyo administration has claimed that the current arrival of U.S. troops does not violate the Constitution because their presence is permitted under the VFA. Even many politicians who had backed the VFA were offended by this dissembling. Senator Rodolfo Biazon, a former Armed Forces chief of staff and co‑sponsor of the VFA legislation, demanded that the administration stop its deceptions, noting that the six‑month to one‑year stated duration for the mission was not within the definition of military field exercises contemplated by that agreement (PDI, 1/16). (Admiral Blair, the head of all U.S. forces in the Pacific, said the timing of the exercise “was set for an initial period there of six months and I think we’ll evaluate it as we go….but you do have to take these things a period at a time.” (Singapore, 1/29) His expectation, he said, was that it would last “months but not years” (CNA, 1/28) ‑‑ which, as Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld noted in another context, meant it might last up to 23 months.)

More significant than the duration is the nature of the operation ‑‑ which, noted the New York Times (1/16), “Filipino officials are careful to call an ‘exercise’ to avoid inflaming domestic sensitivities to a large American military presence.” But the terminology can’t hide the fact that armed U.S. military personnel are being dispatched to a combat area. Presumably with a straight face, President Arroyo‑Macapagal explained that this operation was no different from previous annual joint military exercises, except that the “curriculum and location have changed” (PDI, 1/17).

Philippine officials also tried to claim that the U.S. troops are permitted in the country under the 1951 U.S.‑Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty. But that treaty was designed to counter external armed attacks against the Philippines, not the actions of internal Philippine gangs. And if the Mutual Defense Treaty can justify all deployments of American troops to the Philippines, does that mean that the Constitutional requirement that “foreign military bases, troops, or facilities shall not be allowed in the Philippines except under a treaty duly concurred in by the Senate” never applied to the United States? Certainly this reading was never contemplated during the deliberations on the new Constitution.

Shortly after September 11, President Macapagal‑Arroyo declared her support for Bush’s war on terrorism and gave permission for U.S. ships and aircraft to refuel at the former U.S. military bases in the Philippines. When she traveled to Washington in November, she was duly rewarded with $100 million in military aid (up from $19 million) and generous trade subsidies. Bush also offered her U.S. troops to use against Abu Sayyaf, but she turned this down, saying all she needed was equipment and training. The United States and the Philippines have been negotiating a Mutual Logistics Support Agreement ‑‑ an executive agreement, whose terms have not been disclosed. U.S. officials say it doesn’t go much further than the VFA (Far Eastern Economic Review, 12/6); critics worry that it will recreate the U.S. military bases under a different name. As U.S. special forces ‑‑ armed and authorized to fire in self‑defense ‑‑ deploy in the southern Philippines, one can only wonder what this portends. As a diplomat in Washington commented in mid‑January (Daily Telegraph, 1/16): “The Americans have been desperate to get back into the Philippines since their armed forces were kicked out of the Clark and Subic Bay bases in 1992.”

The Philippine Constitution does not bar foreign troops; it only prohibits them in the absence of a treaty duly approved by the Philippine Senate. There has been no such treaty. The Macapagal‑Arroyo administration has apparently decided that such legal niceties can be ignored in the war against terrorism. But, as Wigbert E. Tañada, the convener of a coalition of Philippine organizations opposed to the U.S. troops, stated: “Resolving our domestic problems related to the Abu Sayyaf would in fact be our best contribution to this international problem called ‘terrorism.'”

Stephen R. Shalom teaches political science at William Paterson University. Among his writings are The United States and the Philippines: A Study of Neocolonialism, The Philippines Reader (South End Press, co-editor), and Imperial Alibis: Rationalizing U.S. Intervention After the Cold War (South End).

 

The date posted here is due to our website rebuild, it does not reflect the original date this article was posted.

 

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