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Renewed Phase of U.S. Military Intervention in the Philippines

by Roland G. Simbulan

The "war games" or "U.S.-Philippine joint military exercises" (code-named Kalayaan-Aguila 2002 or 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 (1899-1901). It deploys the largest number of U.S. troops for combat in the Basilan-Zamboanga area since the Moro Wars (1901-1911). It should be recalled that the Philippine-American War which began in 1899 actually raged on with Filipino guerrilla units harrassing U.S. expeditionary forces till 1913.

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 have 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 on the January 11, 2002 issue of U.S. NAVY TIMES, "...Afganistan 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."

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 trainors 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, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and her spokespersons in the military are practising 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 operation with that long duration.

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).

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 zones 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.

Roland G. Simbulan Professor, University of the Philippines Author, The Bases of Our Insecurity Thursday, 17 January 2002

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