US participation in Zamboanga City attack, start of deepening US intervention

“In allowing the US military to interfere in Philippine internal affairs, the Aquino regime is paving the way for US interventionism on a larger scale in the future.”

By MARYA SALAMAT
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – The constitutionality of the Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) is under question in the Supreme Court since May 27th and 28th, after two sets of petitioners asked the high court to issue an injunction citing how the ‘mother’ of EDCA, the Mutual Defence Treaty, has been superseded and voided by the 1987 Constitution. Protesters have also questioned the Aquino administration’s ‘abuse of discretion’ in signing ‘a very lopsided agreement.’ In EDCA, the US Armed Forces are given “free and blanket access and authority to conduct activities that are limitless in number, boundless in areas, and are as yet unidentified.”

But only a few days after these petitions were filed, US Ambassador Philip Goldberg was saying in a speech inside a de-facto US military base in Zamboanga City that US forces had been involved in the military operations against the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in Zamboanga City last year.

File Photo: ZAMBOANGA DAY 4. IN SMOKE Smoke from a fire in Barangay Catalina, Zamboanga City can be seen at the background of Col. Edwin Andrews Airbase as tensions between the Moro National Liberation Front fighters and government troops are on its fourth day Thursday.  (davaotoday.com photo by John Rizle L.Saligumba)
File Photo: ZAMBOANGA DAY 4. IN SMOKE Smoke from a fire in Barangay Catalina, Zamboanga City can be seen at the background of Col. Edwin Andrews Airbase as tensions between the Moro National Liberation Front fighters and government troops are on its fourth day Thursday. (davaotoday.com photo by John Rizle L.Saligumba)

The Aquino government and its military officials have consistently denied US involvement in the month-long siege launched by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) against MNLF fighters who holed up in Zamboanga City in September last year, as well as in other combat operations of the Philippine state troops elsewhere. However, news reports at the height of the all-out siege by the AFP in Zamboanga City showed unmarked aircraft hovering and circling over the site for several hours. Even then, there were speculations that these were drones operated by US forces from its base in Camp Navarro in Zamboanga City.

Prior to Goldberg’s speech, all the public were told was that US troops were the first to give the city government maps and latrines for the displaced population during the siege.

Goldberg issued his statement during the turnover of command of the US Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTFP) in Zamboanga City Wednesday June 2. Outgoing JSOTFP commander Col. Robert McDowell also admitted to having taken part in the siege, and he even considered himself “a silent hero”.

“During that period the JSOTFP provided vital information, communication assets to help Philippine forces,” Goldberg said.

“The constructive relationships with the military and civilian leaders here were critical in enabling JSOTFP team members to provide situational awareness to our partners and also to the embassy, which contributed to the arrest of over a hundred fighters that were involved in that attack by the MNLF,” Goldberg was quoted as saying in a PDI report.

In a statement emailed to the media, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) condemned the US military for having intervened in the AFP’s siege of several coastal towns of Zamboanga City against the MNLF from September to October last year. It said “The involvement of US military forces, whether through direct combat or providing logistical or intelligence support, constitutes military intervenionism and is a violation of Philippine national sovereignty.”

(For a background on 2013 Zambo attack, read here. To see how PH troops conducted ‘clearing operations’ by arresting suspected MNLF fighters, read here.

Zambo attack not just vs MNLF, but also vs long-time residents

The all-out war of destruction practically levelled the city’s sprawling residential area. The aerial bombing, mortar shelling and machine-gun strafing of homes and buildings displaced 120,000 people who were later prevented from returning to their homes and forced to live in subhuman temporary shelters. Since October, more than 100 people have died in the evacuation centers mostly from preventable, sanitation-related illnesses, according to government health officials.

A Human Rights Watch report said the Zamboanga siege itself resulted in dozens of deaths and the destruction of more than 10,000 homes. Up to now, the group said, majority of people displaced by the fighting remain in limbo. They include people staying in evacuation camps at a coastal area called Cawa-cawa and at the Joaquin Enriquez Sports Complex, which together hold more than 24,000 of the displaced people. It was in Cawa-cawa where most of the deaths occurred, prompting relocation of the refugees but in ways that, the HRW said, indicate a serious disregard for constitutional protections and international standards on internally displaced persons.

The displaced persons are living in seven evacuation camps, five “transitional sites” or shelters, and with relatives and friends.

From interviews held by HRW, they learned that the Zamboanga City government has forbidden evacuees from returning to their areas of residence by declaring these as ‘no build zones,’ thus effectively resulting in the forced eviction of the population. The HRW said the city government’s policy would permanently displace thousands of ethnic Badjao, a tribe of traditional fishermen who have lived in two villages now part of a ‘no build zone.’

The Zamboanga City government has prohibited the original residents from resettling in the areas and affected villages that include the former Badjao’s Rio Hondo and Mariki and three others, which the Zamboanga city Roadmap to Recovery and Reconstruction Plan or Z3R, designates as villages for the construction of buildings and infrastructures, including “houses on stilts” and a base for the Philippine Navy, among others. The “reconstruction” has a budget of US$67 million.

The CPP noted in another statement that there is widespread belief that the Aquino regime made use of the MNLF presence in the area to launch an all-out war of destruction to pave the way for plans to use the residential area for commercial and military purposes.

President Benigno Aquino III distributes food packs to soldiers in Zamboanga City Sept. 13. (davaotoday.com photo by John Rizle L. Saligumba)
FILE PHOTO: President Benigno Aquino III distributes food packs to soldiers in Zamboanga City Sept. 13, 2013. (davaotoday.com photo by John Rizle L. Saligumba)

President Aquino himself stayed for a few days in Zamboanga City in connection with the attack. And now, it was publicly acknowledged that US troops with its war materiel assisted the Philippine Armed Forces in the Zambo attack.

“The Aquino regime and the AFP must be held responsible for having allowed or invited US military interventionism in carrying out its all-out siege and war of destruction in the coastal towns of Rio Hondo, Sta. Barbara and Sta. Catalina,” said the CPP. “In allowing the US military to interfere in Philippine internal affairs, the Aquino regime is paving the way for US interventionism on a larger scale in the future,” it warned.

The CPP said that “Even now, the US military has been carrying out all-out surveillance using drones as well as tapping into the telecommunications and internet infrastructure in the Philippines.” Goldberg said they provided “vital information , communication assets” to AFP troops, and that the resulting “situational awareness” contributed to the capture of MNLF fighters. AFP officials were later reported in the media and by Human Rights Watch issuing vague threats so that those displaced by the Zamboanga fighting will not resist the policy of ‘no build zones’ and their forcible relocation.

Reports said Goldberg also visited Jolo, the capital and largest town of the Sulu archipelago, where he met with “US troops who are there temporarily to advise and assist the Philippine Armed Forces.” (http://bulatlat.com)

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