June 25, 2010
The umbrella group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) today said the July 1 hearing the Supreme Court set for the writ of amparo and writ of habeas data petitions by the family of an interpreter for US troops in Marawi City should also look into possible clandestine operations conducted by US troops in the country.
Cardeño was hired by private military contractor Dyn Corporation through its Philippine subcontractor Skylink. He was recruited as a translator for US troops because he knew not just the local dialect but also Bahasa Indonesia. He was found dead on Feb. 2 inside the military’s Camp Ranao in Marawi City, a day after he started work. Prior to his death, he sent frantic text messages to his family regarding his work. Up to now, his actual work with the US troops, who were also based inside Camp Ranao and identified in police reports as Liaison Coordinating Elements (LCE, an elite unit of US Special Forces embedded within Philippine military units), remains unknown. Local authorities and the military have ruled the death a suicide. A reautopsy by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) found that the manner of death is undetermined.
A family friend, Capt. Javier Ignacio of the Philippine Army, helped in the investigation of Cardeño’s mysterious death. Ignacio was supposed to meet with Cardeño’s relatives and human rights groups when he was assassinated on March 25 in Zamboanga. He suffered nine bullet wounds. The assailants were four men on board two motorcycles.
Ignacio’s death prompted the Cardeno family last April 26 to seek a writ of amparo or a protection order, as well as a writ of habeas data. The respondents in the case include President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in Mindanao, the US Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P), and the local Philippine National Police (PNP). The Supreme Court granted the petitions in a resolution dated June 15.
Bayan noted that before Cardeño’s death, it was already public knowledge that US troops have facilities located within Camp Navarro, Edwin Andrews Air Base, and Camp Malagutay, all in Zamboanga City; Camp Bautista in Jolo Island, Sulu; Camp Sionco in Maguindanao; and the Philippine Naval Station in Panglima Sugala, Tawi-Tawi. The extent of JSOTF-P deployment can also be seen in their official website. Former Navy Lt. Senior Grade Nancy Gadian also revealed in her testimony the extent of operations of the US forces in Mindanao.
“It was only through Cardeno’s death that we learned of the existence of a unit of the US military based in Marawi,” said Bayan secretary-general Renato Reyes Jr. “From what we know of the nature of this unit, the LCE, we fear that it may be a combat unit operating outside the purview of the Visiting Forces Agreement and in violation of the Constitution. It is important that the public be made aware of the possible clandestine operations US forces are conducting in our country, in violation of our laws.”
Reyes also said the presence of US troops in Marawi City may have something to do with the deaths of Cardeño and Ignacio.
Bayan has raised suspicions of a cover-up involving the AFP and the Philippine and US governments.
US soldiers have been permanently stationed in Mindanao since 2002. In August 2009, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced that 600 US Special Forces elements will remain indefinitely in the Philippines.