Now that the new operation for US military intervention is out in the open, I want to go back to all Moro activists with whom I have discussed about the involvement of US soldiers in Marawi City last year.
How brave are these Moro activists to present their suspicions despite the dearth of evidence. In our individual and collective efforts to expose US military intervention in Marawi City through mainstream and social media and through forums, we were accused of making conspiracy theories.
The reason for lack of evidence to support our claim is because the government kept us blinded about the presence of US soldiers during the fight of the military and the Maute group in Marawi City and the new deal they struck with the US government since September 2017, at the height of the destruction of Marawi City.
Had it not been for a drone footage of US soldiers inside the battle zone taken by a reporter from a mainstream media network on June 2017, we would not know that there were US soldier “boots in the ground.” As for the new US military operation, a Wall Street Journal report exposed it in its report about additional US military funds from its overseas contingency operations (OCO).
Dubbed as Operation Pacific Eagle Philippines, the new US military counterterrorism operation was the Trump administration’s response to President Rodrigo Duterte’s request for additional financial and military support to quell ISIS threats in Marawi City.
Aside from P730 million assistance for rehabilitation of Marawi City, another P330 million military aid for efforts to combat the ISIS-inspired group. According to news reports, the Defense Manpower Data Center exposed that there are 101 US troops, mostly Marines, in Mindanao or probably in Marawi City only.
The data is so sketchy prompting progressive groups such as BAYAN to push the government to be transparent about this. But while the government continues to keep mum about this, the International Information Office of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) has released a detailed report of the Operation Pacific Eagle in its website on January 27, 2018. You can follow this link to know more.
Since 2002, our network US Troops Out Now and Patriyotiko Mindanao have been protesting and exposing human rights violations arising from the execution of the first US anti-terror Operation Enduring Freedom 02-1. We even took our lobbying efforts to the US Senate and Congress to rescind military aid aside from pounding on the local oversight committee to look into the participation of US soldiers in combat operations.
The operation ended in 2014 with its troops leaving in 2015, after the botched military operations to arrest Malaysian terrorist Marwan that led instead to an encounter and death of special forces of the Philippine National Police, elements of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and civilians in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.
The US government declared Operation Enduring Freedom as a success. But what kind of success was it knowing that until now the Abu Sayyaf kidnap for ransom bandits that they have elevated into international terrorists are still active in their previous areas of operations – Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Maguindanao, North Cotabato and Saranggani.
Was their declaration of success meant entrenching their economic interests in Mindanao, such as getting concessions for Exxon Mobil to drill oil in the Sulu Sea Basin or hectares of land in former MILF major camp in Maguindanao for Uni Frutti’s pineapple plantation, or as Wikileaks exposed, a deal with the MILF to mine Liguasan Marsh for natural gas once the final peace deal will be signed.
But for Marawi, it might be even bigger – a military camp for the US soldiers.
On January 30 this year, President Duterte visited Marawi City to declare the construction of a P400 million worth military camp in Bgy. Kapantaran inside Marawi City which will be operational in 2020.
This is the second military camp inside Marawi City, the first being Camp Ranao, near the provincial capitol, which hosts the 103rd Infantry Brigade. It’s a 10-hectare military camp with the old city hall to be used as the headquarters for the Philippine Army. It is not clear whether this will be taken out from the P20 billion rehabilitation fund.
What is disconcerting is that since August last year, the government has been dangling the idea that Marawi City is a large military reservation and is owned by the US military. Formerly known as Camp Kiethley military reservation, it’s a 4,000 hectares land that covers Marawi City and towns of Marantao, Piagapo and Saguiaran. It was turnover to the Philippine military on Dec 23, 1953 under the Proclamation 453.
Meranao businessmen and some landowners have already complained that this proclamation is what prohibits some of them to register the land. That is why their suspicions that they will be booted out of the land grew since August, prompting most of them to question the real intention of the war and why President Duterte insisted on flattening the commercial and residential areas of Marawi City through incessant aerial bombardment.
Was it in preparation for building a US military facility in Marawi City inside the Philippine military camp just like Camp Ranao? It is allowed under Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), you need to just ask the barangay captain of Kapantaran to okay the “agreed location.”
Since 2008, the people of Marawi have been protesting the deployment of US troops in Marawi City, which was part of the first Operation Enduring Freedom. They were based in Camp Ranao, guarded by the 103rd Brigade IBPA.
US troops hid behind the humanitarian projects to justify their operations which meant access to all areas, from the Mindanao State University main campus to far-flung areas in Lanao del Sur.
A year after, our network learned about some of the covert operations of the US soldiers inside Camp Ranao. This was because of the death of Gregan Cardeno, a native of Zamboanga who was employed as a Bahasa interpreter by the US troops in Camp Ranao through the Skylink Security International Services. The details of his employment was exposed by a military captain from the Western Mindanao Command who was killed during the course of the investigation.
Some residents have suspicions about the real operations of the US troops in their area. During the height of AFP operations against the Maute brothers in their bailiwick town in Butig in 2016, residents reported that US soldiers were part of those combat operations.
What started the war in Marawi, as Defense Chief Delfin Lorenzana has said, was the serving of an arrest warrant to Isnilon Hapilon, an Abu Sayaff leader and self-proclaimed ISIS emir in Southeast Asia, under the US State Department case. It’s as if Hapilon was in Marawi City at the right time for the government to bombard it to the ground and for the new Operation Pacific Eagle to commence.
I don’t feel vindicated upon learning that one by one our accusations last year are being confirmed this year. I feel enraged that the vilification of Moro people – our culture, religious beliefs and practices and struggle – were again used to justify US military intervention in the Philippines and tyrannical rule for President Duterte.
But now, with grassroots group like Tindeg Ranao standing up against President Duterte’s Martial Law, most of those conspiracy theorists feel vindicated that more and more Marawi people in particular and Moro people in general are seeing the true intention for the aerial bombardment of Marawi City and the declaration of Martial Law last year. (davaotoday.com)