Deploying US Troops to typhoon Pablo-affected areas, as Bagong Alyansang Makabayan Southern Mindanao spokesperson Sheena Duazo said, is a greater disservice to the victims who are already rendered homeless and hungry due to government neglect and corruption of rehabilitation funds.
By CHERYLL D. FIEL
DAVAO CITY, Philippines — Activists in the Davao region are outraged by the reported presence of troops from the United States Armed Forces in Pablo-affected areas in Compostela Valley ahead of the formal opening of the 2013 RP-US Balikatan Exercises in Central Luzon.
The Philippine Military however, through its spokesperson Major Jake Obligado of the Civil Military Operations Battalion belied that Balikatan will be held here and accused Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan)-Southern Mindanao leader Sheena Duazo for making up the story.
But Duazo in a separate interview said Obligado’s reaction does not surprise them.
Duazo cited the local newspaper Mindanao Times’ report last April 3 where Eastern Mindanao Division deputy commander Capt. Severino David disclosed a Joint US Military Advisory Group (Jusmag) conducting a site survey for about a week last month in New Bataan, Monkayo and Laak in Compostela Valley Province.
The newspaper report went on to say David announced the Jusmag’s intention to help in rebuilding schools in the said Pablo-ravaged areas although a schedule of the actual reconstruction activity has not yet been given.
The Jusmag is also going to survey the towns of Cateel, Baganga and Boston in Davao Oriental, areas first hit by the typhoon, the report further disclosed.
Question of transparency
Duazo said they find it unfortunate that little is known about the conduct of RP-US Military Exercises by virtue of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) which guarantees the US government confidentiality in such matters.
“These are matters that people are supposed to be given the right to know, but sadly we have to make do with the limited declarations of US and Philippine embassy officials on that matter in the media,” Duazo said, pointing that the holding of Balikatan Exercises in the country is an issue of transparency.
“For all we know, the US troops might have been here the whole time, if not for the scandals of which the US troops’ misdeeds have been exposed, such as the Gregan Cardeño murder in Marawi City in 2010,” Rendell Cagula, Davao coordinator of the patriotic League of Filipino Students said.
Cardeño was a Zamboanga resident hired by US troops as an interpreter, but was found dead later in the US camp in the AFP’s Camp Ranao in Marawi City. While military authorities prevailed that his death was a suicide, the victims’ family suspected foul play on Cardeño’s murder. The family attested that Cardeño called them hours before his death sounding troubled.
The Balikatan 2013 set on April 6-27 is the 29th RP-US military exercises conducted in the country since 2002, four years after the VFA was passed into law by the Senate in 1998.
Military exercises, according to newspaper accounts, are slated in Camp O’Donnell and Crow Valley in Tarlac, Subic Bay and Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, with some 4,000 American troops taking part in military drills and trainings, along with Filipino troops.
More US rotations this year
Foreign affairs secretary Albert Del Rosario announced that aside from Balikatan, they are looking at having more US forces rotate in the country throughout the year.
US Ambassador to the Philippines Harry Thomas Jr. referred to these as “increased rotational presence of troops” which he said his government wanted to start by concentrating on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, with the goal of enabling troops’ quick response to typhoons
Bayan SMR’s Duazo however, believes this is just hype. “We know that they are again pushing their military-economic agenda in the guise of typhoon disaster action support.”
Deploying US troops to Pablo-affected areas, as Duazo said, is a greater disservice to the victims who are already rendered homeless and hungry due to government neglect and corruption of rehabilitation funds.
“Bringing Balikatan to these areas would be like bringing back pestilence to their lives again,” Duazo said noting the record of abuses of US troops since the war exercises began in 2002.
She said this is like adding insult to injury upon the victims whose communities were heavily hit by flash floods in the Pablo disaster as a consequence of the plunder by US-backed multinational mining companies such as Augustine/Russell Mines Inc. and Apex Mines in the gold-rich mountains of Compostela Valley.
Duazo said notwithstanding the danger posed by their war games on people, the past experiences in RP-US Balikatan Exercises showed that countless other human rights violations have been committed against Filipinos as US troops carried out attacks side by side with Philippine Army in hunting down their avowed enemies in Philippine territories through these so-called military exercises.
It is no secret, Duazo pointed out, that Southern Mindanao is home to the fiercest opponents of US imperialism, the New People’s Army (NPA) for that matter, which the Aquino administration is targeting for its end-game plot via its counter-insurgency measure Oplan Bayanihan.
“And we know how much the US government shares in the plot, as much as we know that the victims of these kinds of military operations launched against the NPAs are the hapless civilians in the communities that they indiscriminately attacked,” Duazo said, mentioning the case of Roque Antivo, an eight-year-old boy who was killed by Philippine military fire in Crossing Kidaraan, Anitapan village in Mabini town, Compostela Valley just last week.
Duazo said the “humanitarian mission” is a lame cover. “It is something that the people have already recognize as a sham with all that we have gone through with these RP-US Balikatan exercises,” she said.
A contingent of 400 victims from areas affected by typhoon Pablo stormed the Eastern Mindanao Command Headquarters in Panacan early this week to show opposition to the upcoming Balikatan exercises.
Blame on one-sided VFA
Duazo said they will not stop, as they always have “faith in the people,” just as their massive protests led the Philippine Senate to end the RP-US Bases Military Agreement in 1992.
Sadly, Duazo noted that such patriotic act shown by people was put to waste six years later, in 1998, as the Ramos administration managed to sneak in the VFA in its desperation to bring back US financial aid.
The VFA’s constitutionality was assailed many times, on the ground that it violates Article 18 Section 25, a provision in the 1987 Constitution which supposedly prohibits foreign military bases, troops or facilities after the 1991 expiration of the Military Bases Agreement, except under a treaty.
The VFA, as argued, cannot be considered a treaty, because it was not concurred in by the Senate of the State of the contracting party, the United States, hence, it is called an “executive agreement.”
The VFA is largely viewed as a lopsided agreement, granting not only immunity to erring troops but “secrecy” as well to the US Government in the movement of troops and war facilities in the country.
Cagula, meanwhile, lamented that the leadership of the Philippine government under President Aquino continues to turn a blind eye while the VFA is being blatantly used to absolve the atrocities of US troops in the country, among others the rape of Nicole by US servicemen in 2006, the dumping of toxic waste in Subic last year, and lately, the damage brought by the minesweeper USS Guardian that rammed through one of the Philippines’ remaining marine ecosystem, the Tubbataha Reef.
“This is the problem with the VFA. We are being abused without the benefit of demanding accountability from the actions of US troops in our land. In other words, VFA has become a tool with which the US Government commits wanton acts of violations against our people with impunity. We have all the right to be indignant against the coming of the US Troops. At stake is our dignity, our patrimony and our sovereignty. It is therefore, just right that the people should oppose Balikatan and move for the junking of VFA at all cost,” Cagula said. (Cheryll D. Fiel, davaotoday.com)