A former presidential adviser under the Ramos administration and senior fellow of the US Institute of Peace expressed concern over the involvement of US troops in the war in Mindanao saying that the Philippines should not even be part of the US so-called “war on terror”.
BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
“We are concerned over the involvement of US troops in the war in Mindanao.”
Amina Rasul, lead convener of the Philippine Council for Islam and Democracy, expressed this concern during the Sept. 25 hearing of the Legislative Oversight Committee on the Visiting Forces Agreement (LOVFA), in which she appeared as a resource person.
Rasul was a Presidential Adviser for Youth Affairs during the Ramos administration and former senior fellow of the US Institute of Peace.
The LOVFA, headed by Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago and Cebu Rep. Antonio Cuenco, conducted the hearing to look into reports that US troops in the Philippines are participating in actual combat operations.
The Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) grants extraterritorial and extrajudicial “rights” to US troops visiting the Philippines. But the Terms of Reference for RP-US Exercise Balikatan 02-1, which are still being used as guidelines for Philippine and US troops participating in military exercises, prohibit the participation of US exercise participants in combat operations.
The Constitution prohibits foreign military presence on Philippine soil except under a treaty approved by both the Philippines and the other contracting party. Art. XVIII, Sec. 25 of the Constitution provides that:
After the expiration in 1991 of the Agreement between the Republic of the Philippines and the United States of America concerning military bases, foreign military bases, troops, or facilities shall not be allowed in the Philippines except under a treaty duly concurred in by the Senate and, when the Congress so requires, ratified by a majority of the votes cast by the people in a national referendum held for that purpose, and recognized as a treaty by the other contracting State.
The VFA was ratified by the Philippine Senate in 1999 and signed by then President Joseph Estrada. It was, however, never ratified by the US Senate.
While not taking any position supporting or opposing the VFA, Rasul expressed apprehension that the presence of US troops in the Philippines could involve the country in a war in which it should have no part. “Our worry is that we may become part of the global war on ‘terror’, and we are not part of that,” Rasul said.
Roland Simbulan, a development studies professor at the University of the Philippines (UP) in Manila and an expert on RP-US foreign and military relations, had expressed a similar view in an earlier interview with Bulatlat. “With the presence of US troops in our country, we can get into conflict with countries that are not our enemies,” he said.
According to former Gen. Edilberto Adan, chairman of the Presidential Commission on the VFA, there are 400-600 US troops deployed in the Philippines at any one time.
US troops in the Philippines operate from what are known as “Cooperative Security Locations” or CSLs. The website GlogalSecurity.org defines a CSL as follows:
A Cooperative Security Location (CSL) is a host-nation facility with little or no permanent US presence. CSLs will require periodic service, contractor and/or host nation support. CSLs provide contingency access and are a focal point for security cooperation activities. They may contain propositioned equipment. CSLs are: rapidly scalable and located for tactical use, expandable to become a FOS (Forward Operating Site), forward and expeditionary. They will have no family support system.
In the Philippines, there are CSLs installed in Camp Aguinaldo, the General Headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP); as well as in Camp Navarro in Zamboanga City, in Cotabato City, and in Basilan.
Camp Navarro hosts the headquarters of the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P).
The JSOTF-P was established by the US Special Operations Command Pacific (SOCPAC). It began its work when SOCPAC deployed to the Philippines Joint Task Force (JTF) 510. Based on an item on GlobalSecurity.org, JTF 510 was deployed to the Philippines “to support Operation Enduring Freedom.”