Bayan slams “permanent presence and combat functions” of US troops in RP
For all intents and purposes, US troops have been based in the Philippines since 2002 sans any basing treaty, in violation of the Philippine Constitution. They have been engaged in other activities that go against the Constitution. Eighteen years after the Philippine Senate rejected a new bases treaty with the US, the American forces are again well entrenched in the country.
This was the reaction made by the umbrella group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan amid news reports from the New York Times that some 600 American troops will be retained in Mindanao, according to US Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Bayan accused Arroyo of single-handedly reversing the gains of the 1991 bases treaty rejection.
“The retention of US troops in the Philippines is an affront to our sovereignty, disguised as some questionable humanitarian mission. They have based themselves in the Philippines, particularly in Camp Navarro in Zamboanga since 2002, without any basing treaty. There’s not even a time frame for the deployment. It’s open ended. It could be forever,” said Bayan secretary general Renato M. Reyes, Jr.
“Under the regime of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, US troops are no longer just visitors. They are now permanently deployed here, 365 days a year, 24/7. The Visiting Forces Agreement covers the supposedly the temporary stay of American forces, but these US troops have been here seven years now. These US troops in Mindanao are also operating outside the Balikatan exercises or any other training program for that matter,” Reyes added.
Bayan said that the continued presence of foreign troops, even if only 600, sets a dangerous precedent. “The US troops might decide to stay longer. They might decide to deploy more troops, maybe thousands. What’s to stop them from doing that? What’s to stop them from setting up de facto bases in Mindanao?” Reyes said.
The militant group said that it will raise before the Supreme Court these new developments as part of their petition to declare the VFA unconstitutional. Bayan along with Gabriela and Bayan Muna were among the petitioners questioning the validity of the VFA.
“What we know is that 1) the American troops have overstayed, beyond the period supposedly contemplated by the VFA, 2) they have set up de facto bases and permanent structures in Mindanao, and 3) they are engaged in combat functions,” Reyes said.
“All these violate the constitution and are an insult to our sovereignty. They have managed to get basing rights even without a treaty concurred in by the Senate. If the US and Philippines invoke the VFA as the basis of the prolonged stay, then the Senate has been duped by when it ratified the VFA. The Senate should then seek the termination of the VFA,” he said.
The VFA has been in effect since 1999 and has encountered many controversies, including the treatment on American marine who was convicted for rape but later on acquitted by the appeal court.
“The latest development affirms the warnings aired by critics of the VFA in 1999, that the pact will allow US troops permanent presence in the country. These warnings were not taken into account by previous rulings of the Supreme Court. It is our hope that they will consider these now that the US government has announced that the US troops are staying,” Reyes said.
Senate should probe activities of JSOTFP
Bayan doubted the real activities of the Joint Special Operations Task Force Philippines, a special forces unit under the US Pacific Command, based in Camp Navarro in Zamboanga.
“The JSOTFP is composed of the elite fighting units of the US armed forces. Their primary function is combat, so it is really doubtful when the US government says that these troops are engaged primarily in humanitarian efforts. Even if the US says 80% of their work is focused on alleged humanitarian work, that would still mean 20% of their work is combat-related,” Reyes said.
“The question is, does the Philippine constitution allow foreign troops to have ANY combat role in the Philippines? It is our view that the US troops’ activities are not limited to training and that they are operating together with AFP combat units in actual combat operations or in conditions were armed adversaries are present,” Reyes said.
Bayan called on the Philippine senate to investigate the gains of the Philippines from the prolonged stay of the US troops in Mindanao. “We want to know, after seven years of having US troops operate in Mindanao, why is it that the Abu Sayyaf group has not been eliminated? Or is it because US troops have other ‘missions’ that we are not aware of and that the ASG is just being used as a pretext for the stay of US forces?” Reyes asked.