February 23, 2010
The Junk VFA Movement today warned of the ever-expanding military engagement of the US armed forces in the Philippines with the planned Balikatan exercises to be held for the first time in Ilocos.
Junk VFA convenor and former UP faculty regent Roland Simbulan doubted that the Balikatan events in Ilocos Sur were for purely humanitarian purposes. He said that the US was expanding its role in domestic counter-insurgency as well as using the northern region of the Philippines for US “power projection” versus China.
“The choice of venue for the so-called Balikatan exercises in Ilocos Sur early this year show that U.S. military personnel are indeed getting more and more involved in counterinsurgency operations in various parts of the country. Despite assurances that their activities are merely for “humanitarian aid missions” (medical, dental missions and disaster management exercises), it cannot be doubted that the areas chosen in the 1st and 2nd districts of Ilocos Sur are regarded as the traditional “hotspots” of insurgency in the province,” Simbulan said.
Simbulan has written extensively on the issue of US military presence in the Philippines and is regarded as an expert on the topic.
The UP professor believes that the US may be conducting area surveys in the guise of humanitarian missions to see if they can set up similar facilities as those in Mindanao.
“The mountainous tri-boundary in northwestern Luzon is also being eyed as a potential listening post for U.S. surveillance equipment and facilities. U.S. special operations teams have already done this in many parts of Mindanao. This is part of the US power projection towards China and the rest of Southeast Asia,” Simbulan said.
United States Special Forces have been on a permanent and continuous deployment in Mindanao since 2002. Various sources have already pointed out that bases have in fact been set up in Zamboanga.
Simbulan attended a forum in Ilocos organized by the Ilocos Sur Ecumenical Movement. He reported that U.S. Air Force (USAF) teams have also been visiting Laoag in Ilocos Norte for the potential use of its airfields. In the town of Salcedo, Ilocos Sur, they have chosen to conduct the so-called humanitarian aid missions of the elite U.S. Special Operations teams in the barangays of Pias, Atabay and Balwarte. In Sta. Cruz town, U.S. Army personnel have been visiting barangay San Jose and almost disrupted classes in a school where they wanted to conduct their “humanitarian mission”.
“Today, these are all considered hotspots of insurgency in the province. This is why they were chosen,” he said.
Simbulan said that the “humanitarian missions” by U.S. special operations forces teams are meant to soften the local people’s opposition to later larger war exercises by combined U.S. and Philippine military forces in the area.
“If the objective is train Philippine military forces in disaster relief and other warfighting capabilities, then why are these not conducted inside the Philippine Army training camps in Tanay, Rizal, or in Fort Bonifacio where they are far from harm’s way and conflict-zones ?” Simbulan said.
Junk VFA believes that in other parts of the country, such as in Mindanao and Bikol, the choice of areas for Balikatan exercises since 2002 up to the present seems to be determined by the existence of rebel or insurgent activity.
“Soon, as shown in other parts of the country, so-called joint military exercises with U.S. and Philippine Army forces will follow using live fire ammunition, mortars and explosives thereby disrupting our peaceful countryside, destroying the environment and endangering the lives and limb of our farmers, fishermen or indigenous peoples who live in these areas. These exercises have now been established to be camouflage and cover for direct involvement in counter-insurgency operations by U.S. forces,” Simbulan said.
The Philippine Senate last year, during its public hearings on the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) established that these “humanitarian missions” and Balikatan military exercises are in fact being used as cover for direct involvement in counterinsurgency by U.S. elite military forces. U.S. military forces are now embedded in many frontline Philippine Army units in combat zones. Former Senior Grade Navy Lt. Nancy Gadian, a former liaison officer in the Balikatan, also confirmed the use of these activities as camouflage to engage in U.S. military intervention.
The Philippine Senate has passed a resolution calling for the review or abrogation of the VFA. A petition questioning the constitutionality of the VFA remains pending before the Supreme Court.