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