U.S. MILITARY INTERVENTION IN THE PHILIPPINES: A NEW PHASE by Roland G. Simbulan
Subject: My Lecture at U.P. on Balikatan
Professor III, Department of Social Sciences, College of Arts & Sciences
University of the Philippines, Manila
and Author, The BASES OF OUR INSECURITY
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and her spokespersons in the military are practicing gross deception when they claim that this military operation with live targets is within the scope and ambit of the “military exercises” covered by the RP-U.S. Visiting Forces Agreement. A joint U.S.-Philippine military exercise for as long as “six months to one year” is unprecedented if not fantastic, for it might as well be forever and indefinite in its duration!
Lecture before the Third World Studies Center and the Institute of Islamic Studies, Asian Center, U.P. Diliman, Feb. 7, 2002
The “war games” or “U.S.-Philippine joint military exercises” (code-named Kalayaan-Aguila 2002 or Mindanao Balikatan 02-1) being held in Basilan and Zamboanga are nothing but an outright military operation by U.S. military forces led by the Special Operations Forces (SOFs). For the record, Kalayaan-Aguila 2002 marks the largest U.S. military intervention engaged in actual combat against “real, actual targets” on Philippine soil since the Philippine-American War (1899-1913). It deploys the largest number of U.S. troops for combat in the Basilan-Zamboanga area since the Moro Wars (1901-1913). These were actually the first U.S. “Visiting Forces” on Philippines soil.
It should be recalled that the Philippine-American War which began in 1899 actually raged on with Filipino guerrilla units harassing U.S. expeditionary forces till 1913. This war was later to be noted by historians and scholars as “America’s First Vietnam” in Asia.
Under the guise of an annual Balikatan (Shoulder to Shoulder) Military Exercise, 1,200 Philippine troops and 660 U.S. troops are engaged in a “six months to one year” joint military operations against live targets, the Abu Sayyaf. Previous Philippine-U.S.military exercises in various parts of Luzon and Mindoro have avoided areas of rebel or dissident operations obviously to prevent a deeper involvement by U.S. forces in internal conflicts. Even at the height of U.S. military activity on the U.S. bases in the 60s and 70s, U.S. military forces had kept a low profile in the counter-insurgency campaign in the surrounding Central Luzon provinces.
As observed by Associated Press correspondent Pauline Jelinek in an article in the Jan. 11 issue of U.S. NAVY TIMES, “…Afghanistan is not the only country where Americans are fighting or plan to fight the terrorists… U.S. Special Operations Forces already in the Philippines will spearhead the U.S. effort to bolster the Asian nation’s defenses against radical Muslims… the dispatch of U.S. forces to the Philippines is an example of U.S. efforts to take the fight against terror elsewhere around the globe.” In previous months even before the September 11, 2001 attacks, U.S. military advisers from the Special Operations Forces have been actively training Philippine Scout Ranger elite units in counter-insurgency and counter-terrorist operations/tactics in various parts of the country. More and more U.S. military activities in the Philippines have been noted in recent months under President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as the United States is also considering shifting some of its Pacific forces to the Philippines to relieve the political pressure on U.S. forces especially in Okinawa and South Korea.
President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who is already actively courting the political support of the United States for the 2004 presidential elections, completely disregards the Philippine Constitution which prohibits “foreign military troops” on Philippine soil, unless covered by a treaty to be concurred in by the Senate. All the existing security agreements of the Philippines and the United States (Mutual Defense Treaty, Military Assistance Agreement, Visiting Forces Agreement) do not have provisions for the deployment of foreign military forces, advisers, foreign military trainers or coordinators in actual combat operations. Philippine Undersecretary for Foreign Affairs Lauro Baja himself admitted that this form of operation in an actual combat zone is not even covered by any Memorandum of Understanding between the two countries.
As it is, Macapagal-Arroyo and her spokespersons in the military are practicing gross deception when they claim that this military operation with live targets is within the scope and ambit of the “military exercises” covered by the RP-U.S. Visiting Forces Agreement. A joint U.S.-Philippine military exercise for as long as “six months to one year” is unprecedented if not fantastic, for it might as well be forever and indefinite in its duration! This author who has researched U.S. and other foreign military exercises, has never come across any “military exercise” with that long duration. Many sectors in the Philippines today suspect that a Mutual Logistical Support Agreement (MLSA) has already been secretly signed, if not agreed upon, by the Philippine and U.S. governments as a military-to-military acquisition and cross-servicing agreement. We must understand that the infrastructure for a restoration of U.S. military presence in the Philippines is already in place with the USAID-funded airfields and ports of General Santos City within Mindanao’s Saranggani Bay which when U.S. forces are deployed can provide a fulcrum for U.S. intervention not only in Mindanao and the Philippines, but against the predominantly Islamic countries of Indonesia and Malaysia.RAND Corporation, a think tank of the Pentagon and the White House, in a pre-Sept. 11,2001 study pointed out that the U.S. should seek with the Philippines “frequent, rotating military deployments of U.S. forces” on Philippine soil “to allow the rapid start of military operations during crises”
The dispatch of a significant number of U.S. troops including elite U.S. special operations forces for combat in the Philippines opens a new chapter in U.S. military intervention in the Philippines. At the height of the anti-Huk campaign in the 1950s, U.S. military intervention was limited to CIA psychological operations by a handful of U.S. operatives and covert agents, and no more than 30 military advisers from the Joint U.S. Military Advisory Group (JUSMAG).
U.S. Special Operations Forces
What are U.S. Special Operations Forces(SOFs) and why are they in the Philippines?
In 1987, the Pentagon inaugurated an independent command to consolidate Special Operations Forces of Army Green Berets, Rangers, and the covert Delta Force, Navy SEALS, Special Boat Units, and the Covert Team 6 and Air Force Special Operations and Internal Defense Squadrons.
As a consolidated, composite command, they are now part of what is called the Central Command of the U.S. Armed Forces, a command that is now playing the lead role on the ground in “the war against terror” in Afghanistan. These Special Forces command units now operate globally in exercises known as “Joint Combined Exchange Training(JCET), a part of key post-Cold War foreign policy.
These are different and should be differentiated from the 25-member Joint U.S. Military Advisory Group or JUSMAG which were never removed and in fact are today, still attached to the U.S. Embassy in Manila at the “Col. James Rowe Compound”.
The U.S. has had JCET operations in various parts of the world for many years, but for the past nine years, they have been almost invisible, free of virtually any U.S. congressional oversight. A 1991 law, Section 2001 of Title 10 of the U.S. Code which governs money spent on overseas troop deployments, bypasses oversight requirements by giving commanders of Special Operations Forces the authority to deploy and pay for training of U.S. and foreign troops, if “the primary purpose of the training…shall be to train the Special Operations Forces of the Combat Command.” The U.S. law also allows unreported financing of the foreign country’s participation in training by buying fuel, food and ammunition, etc.
Today, worldwide, there are 47,000 personnel belonging to this most elite unit of the U.S. armed forces — the U.S. Special Operations Forces.
“Special operations” have evolved functions which were formerly the sold purview of the CIA or diplomatic officers, such as collecting strategic information on foreign countries, including everything from topography, backgrounds of foreign leaders, evaluation of the readiness of foreign troops, potential landing sites, and the like.
Officially, the justification is that such operations are to facilitate the training of U.S. troops; though deployments appear to hold direct benefits for U.S. troops, U.S. officials maintain that by training foreign troops, U.S. forces are learning how to train foreign troops, one of their main official missions.
The Special Operations Forces advisers may in fact be contributing to counter-insurgency and human rights violations. But there is definitely a political card played by the JCET advisers. They are a direct instrument of U.S. foreign policy, in fact, they may be the most involved, tangible, physical part of U.S. foreign policy in certain countries.
They have definitely become a leading force in exerting U.S. influence abroad, revising the rules of U.S. engagement with scores of foreign countries where U.S. economic, security and political interests are affected.
JCET operations which are also functioning as Mobile Training Teams(MTT) have been operating around the world. In Africa, they were in Benin, Botswana, Mali, Mauritania, Kenya, Rwanda, Senegal, to name a few. They have also been training special forces units in Colombia, Guatemala and other Central and Latin American countries under the auspices of an “anti-narcotics war campaign and operations.”
But the program has been criticized in the past in various South American countries and Africa for contributing to counter-insurgency operations by trained troops and paramilitary units and providing yet another mechanism for channeling U.S. military training and equipment to favored regimes.
In Indonesia, during the Suharto military dictatorship, U.S. Special Operations Forces advisers trained the notorious Kopassus troops, accused by Amnesty International of involvement in kidnappings and torture of anti-government activists. In the case of Colombia and Guatemala, the U.S. role in organizing the death squads and torture squads began with the Special Operations Forces advisers in 1991, when they set up “intelligence networks”, under a secret Colombian military high command. The excuse then was officially the war against narcotics. Now it is the war against terrorism.
Small mobile training teams composed of U.S. Special Operations Forces usually train local units in “camouflage techniques, small-unit movement, troop leading procedures, soldier-team development, rappelling, mountaineering, marksmanship, weapon maintenance, and day and night navigation. Also included are “small unit leader training, intelligence, interrogation techniques, rifle marksmanship, first aid, land navigation, and tactical skills, such as patrolling.”
Of course, U.S. military training goes beyond purely military advise as it includes counter-insurgency techniques, according to a senior U.S. Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict official who was interviewed by the Washington Post(July 12, 1998).
In many countries, despite mounting evidence that U.S. Special Operations Forces -trained local troops are in the thick of atrocities inflicted upon civilian populations, this form of U.S. military continues.
Towards an Expanded U.S. War of Intervention in the Philippines
It should be pointed out that this reality of direct involvement of U.S. troops in actual military operations against the Abu Sayyaf or what are perceived as “threats to U.S. interests” could act as a trigger if not a precedent for more massive U.S. military intervention against both the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Moro National Liberation Front in Mindanao. Inevitably, these U.S. forces could in the future also be directed against other “terrorists” or “communist terrorists” (CTs) in the U.S. list. Currently, the New People’s Army (NPA), the military arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) operates in more than 100 guerrilla fronts in at least 50 provinces in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. U.S. economic interests and U.S. military forces are known to represent “U.S. imperialism,” the avowed enemy of the CPP/NPA.
This could trigger a larger, protracted war on all fronts that now threaten both the Filipino and Bangsamoro peoples. Will the Philippines be another Vietnam?
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