September 16, 2009 

U.S. Troops Fuel Insecurity Crisis in the Philippines

BAYAN-USA Calls on U.S. Government to Terminate Visiting Forces Agreement

 

September 16 marks the historic Philippine Senate vote to reject the renewal of a U.S. military bases treaty, but recent declarations by U.S. and Philippine defense officials reveal their desire to erase history in order to secure the future of U.S. imperialism and the Philippine elite who benefit from it.

 

Responding to decades of protest demanding that U.S. bases in the Philippines be shut down, the 12-11 Senate vote on September 16, 1991 effectively ejected U.S. troops from the country.  In a clear affront to Philippine sovereignty and the will of the people, however, the controversial U.S.-Philippines Visiting Forces Agreement was enacted shortly thereafter in 1999.  Since then, tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers, commanders, advisors, special operatives, and other military personnel have flooded back into the country, along with nearly $1 billion worth of military aid and materiel.

 

Despite massive demonstrations, senate and congressional hearings, and a Supreme Court review of the constitutionality of the agreement in the Philippines, president after president in both countries has staunchly defended the reviled agreement. In a phone call in March and a state meeting in July with President Gloria Arroyo this year, President Barack Obama affirmed his support for the Visiting Forces Agreement and continuing the annual joint military exercises known as “Balikatan” (“Shoulder-to-Shoulder”).   “Despite his rhetoric of ‘change,’ President Obama and his cabinet have clung to Bush’s foreign policy when it comes to the Philippines,” said BAYAN-USA Chair Berna Ellorin. 

 

At the end of last month, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced that the U.S. has been keeping a 600-strong Joint Special Operations Task Force in the Philippines since 1999, and that the U.S. intends to maintain the forces there indefinitely.  Gates’ announcement was followed by a visit from Philippine Defense Secretary and presidential aspirant Gilberto Teodoro, who last week pledged his commitment to the Visiting Forces Agreement and continued “cooperation” with the U.S. military.

 

“Declaring the ‘permanent and continuous presence’ of U.S. troops is like giving a life sentence to the Philippines,” said Ellorin.  “Indefinite military presence holds the Philippines prisoner to the failed Bush-Cheney military doctrine, sacrificing the Philippines’ sovereignty for a policy that has fueled thousands of human rights violations against innocent civilians and made the world less safe for everyone.”

 

Testimony from whistleblower Lt. Senior Grade Nancy Gadian earlier this month further exposed that the U.S. government is using the Visiting Forces Agreement to justify virtual military bases and to allow American personnel to participate in actual combat operations in the Philippines, in clear violation of the country’s sovereignty.  More evidence of this fact has been uncovered in research by Professor Roland G. Simbulan , who cites an article in the MILITARY REVIEW (May-June 2004) of the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center, former Joint Special Operations Task Force – Philippines (JSOTF-P) Commander Col. David Maxwell, U.S. Army, which said that the mission of the JSOTF-P in the Philippines “is to conduct unconventional warfare in the Philippines through, by, and with the Armed Forces of the Philippines,” with “unconventional warfare” defined as including guerilla warfare, subversion, sabotage, and assisted recover.” Professor Simbulan concludes that Maxwell’s article “in fact, implied that the Balikatan exercises under the VFA were just a disguise for counter-terrorist operations.” 

 

“With thousands of Filipino civilians getting caught in the crossfire and tens of millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars spent on these war games, the biggest losers in this equation are everyday people in both the Philippines and the U.S.,” said Ellorin. “The U.S. military machine is using us as human shields in a power play to enhance its geopolitical interests in the world, at the cost of innocent lives and money that is desperately needed for education, health care, affordable housing, and other domestic services.”

 

On this historic day and in the spirit of those who marched the streets of Manila for the termination of the U.S. bases treaty 18 years ago, we demand that the U.S. government end its military presence and intervention in the Philippines.  We demand the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement, a one-sided treaty that legitimizes the presence of U.S. troops in the Philippines and provides legal protection for U.S. soldiers who commit crimes while on duty in the Philippines.  We demand that not one more cent of our tax dollars be spent on military aid for the Philippines. 

 

Today we honor the Filipino people who have steadfastly challenged and resisted U.S. imperialism in the Philippines. We add our voices to the efforts of organizations throughout the Philippines and worldwide which oppose the presence of U.S. troops, bases, military occupation, and war.

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One of two overseas chapters of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, or BAYAN Philippines, BAYAN-USA is an alliance of 14 progressive Filipino organizations in the U.S. representing women, youth, students, scholars and working people.  BAYAN-USA launched a petition site calling for the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement that can be accessed at http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/JunkVFAnow/. The said petition is addressed to US President Barack Obama and will be presented to him this year.