Balikatan 2008 Raises Fears of Rapes, Other Atrocities by U.S. Troops

· On Feb. 4, 2008, one of the survivors of the Maimbung, Sulu massacre Rawina Wahid revealed that when the soldiers who attacked their village brought her and the body of her husband, Pfc. Ibnul Wahid, into a Navy boat she saw four U.S. soldiers inside.

U.S. troops in RP: 2002-present

The first RP-U.S. Balikatan military “exercises” were held in 2002 in Basilan, then known as a stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), which, according to different sources, was formed by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to justify the intensive military operations against Moro communities and the continuing presence of U.S. troops in the region.

As then Col. David Maxwell wrote in an article for the Military Review in 2004, the Balikatan “exercises” in Basilan were a guise for counter-“terrorist” operations under the auspices of Operation Enduring Freedom-Philippines.

Operation Enduring Freedom is the official name given to the U.S. government’s military response to the terrorist attack of Sept. 11, 2001 in New York City. It entails a series of anti-“terrorism” activities in Afghanistan, the Philippines, the Horn of Africa, Trans-Sahara, and Pakinsi Gorge.

“The mission in Basilan was to conduct unconventional warfare operations in the Southern Philippines through, by, and with the AFP to help the Philippine government separate the population from and to destroy terrorist organizations,” Maxwell, who was the commander of the U.S. troops deployed for Balikatan 2002, wrote. “The plan’s intent was to provide all SF (Special Forces) elements in Basilan with unifying guidance that would help harmonize counterterrorist and counterinsurgency operations in the Southern Philippines with initial focus on Basilan.”

Maxwell included among the Special Forces’ tasks “supporting operations by the AFP ‘strike force’ (LRC or Light Reaction Company)” in their areas of responsibility.

Areas covered

This year’s Balikatan military “exercises” cover Basilan, the Lanao provinces, Sulu, and North Cotabato.

North Cotabato is one of the provinces straddled by the oil-rich Liguasan Marsh, together with Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat. Basilan, the Lanao provinces, and North Cotabato are strongholds of the revolutionary Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), whose peace talks with the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) are currently at a standstill over ancestral domain issues.

Sulu is also currently the site of oil exploration operations involving several foreign companies including a U.S. corporation.

In 2005, the Department of Energy (DoE) awarded Service Contract 56 to Australia’s BHP Billiton Petroleum PTY Ltd., Amerada Hess Ltd., Unocal Sulu Ltd., and Sandakan Oil II, LCC. Amerada Hess Ltd. is a unit of Hess Ltd., a U.S.-based oil and gas exploration company.

Based on a 2005 news item published by the Philippine Information Agency (PIA), Service Contract 56 covers some 8,620 hectares offshore Sulu Sea, an area described as “one of the most prospective areas for oil and gas exploration as indicated by the previous drilling activities conducted in the area.”

These provinces are covered by this year’s Balikatan military “exercises,” which have raised among other fears the possibility of other women suffering the plight of “Nicole” (the court-assigned name for the Subic rape victim of 2005) – not an unjustified fear considering the latest series of rapes by U.S. troops stationed in Okinawa. (Bulatlat.com)

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