US Role in Philippine Counterinsurgency Operations


In a speech during a Peace and Security forum held at the Mandarin Hotel last April 22, 2010, then presidential candidate Benigno Aquino III outlined his National Security Policy, which he said focuses on four key elements:

Governance – “The government must be present and accountable to its citizens especially those living in the poorest and most remote areas.”

(An effective political strategy focuses on strengthening the government’s capability and capacity to respond—and be seen to be responding—to the needs of its people.)

Delivery of basic services – “To alleviate the plight of innocent civilians caught in the conflict, we must renew government programs that build access roads, school buildings for basic and adult education, provide potable water and sanitation facilities, basic health care, electricity, assist in shelter reconstruction, and provide temporary livelihood interventions.”

Economic Reconstruction and Sustainable Development – the national government, in partnership with international donor organizations, must assist the new ARMM regional government in building a capable bureaucracy with streamlined and transparent procedures to increase the region’s absorptive capacity for development projects that will come its way.

(The economic and development function in COIN includes immediate humanitarian relief and the provision of essential services such as safe water, sanitation, basic heath care, livelihood assistance, and primary education, as well as longer- term programs for development of infrastructure to support agricultural, industrial, educational, medical and commercial activities. It also includes efforts to build the absorptive capacity of local economies and generate government and societal revenues from economic activity (much of which may previously have been illicit or informal). Assistance in effective resource and infrastructure management, including construction of key infrastructure, may be critically important to COIN efforts.)

Security Sector Reform – “Reforming the Security Sector must begin with restoring the pride and honor of our uniformed services. We need strong, capable and disciplined security forces serving under *firm democratic civilian control *to achieve and sustain peace and security in our land.”

(Physical security efforts must not focus too greatly on strengthening the military and police forces of the affected nation. Such capacity building should only be part of a broader process of Security Sector Reform (SSR) in which the whole system is developed, including the civil institutions that oversee the security forces and intelligence services, the legal framework and the justice institutions (prosecution services, judiciary and prisons) that implement it. It is particularly important that a sense of civil ownership and accountability should extend to the local level and that all elements of the security apparatus should be trusted by the population.)

Those in italics were lifted from the US Counterinsurgency Guide released last January 2009.

Is it surprising that current Philippine president Benigno Aquino III adopted the 2009 US Counterinsurgency Guide in framing his government’s National Security Policy? Not really for a fair-haired boy of the Americans. It could be recalled that during the heat of the presidential campaign, exactly two weeks before the May 10 elections, Time magazine featured Aquino in an article with the title, The Next Aquino: Can Noynoy Save The Philippines? He is only the second presidential candidate who was featured by a major US publication such as Time even before he was elected. The first one was Ferdinand E. Marcos.

And a mere 11 days after the May 10 elections, newly-assigned US Ambassador to the Philippines Harry K. Thomas already visited Aquino at his Times street residence.

However, US influence, nay control, over Philippine counterinsurgency strategy dates back way before Aquino. It could be remembered that the last two government agencies turned over by the US colonial government to the first Philippine puppet government were the Education and Defense departments.

Thus, even before the term “surrogate army” was coined by the 2006 US Quadrennial Defense Review, the AFP has long been a junior partner of the the US Armed Forces. In fact, among the major influences in the development of US counterinsurgency strategy are the Philippine-American War of 1901 and the Huk pacification campaign during the 1950s.

This partnership is being underpinned by the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) of 1951. Before the MDT was the US-RP Military Bases Agreement and the US-RP Military Assistance Pact of March 1947. Under the Military Assistance Pact, the US supplied arms, ammunition, equipment, and supplies to the AFP, and provided for the establishment of the Joint US Military Advisory Group (Jusmag), which was mandated to reorganize the AFP and train its officers and personnel. Part of the aid package was the grant of scholarships to AFP officers for training to US military schools. Through the Jusmag, the US Armed Forces is able to, on a continuing basis, provide strategic and tactical direction to, and exercise intelligence coordination with the AFP. The provision of arms, ammunition, equipment, and supplies to the AFP is also being coursed through the Jusmag.

Agreements and Structures of Continuing Control

After the Philippine Senate rejected the renewal of the US-RP Military Bases Agreement in 1992, the US has been seeking ways to justify the posting of its troops in the country. Also by the late 90s, the Project for a New American Century, an American think tank comprised of neoconservatives, was pushing for “promoting American global leadership” (read: assert American politco-military hegemony). On February 1998, the Visiting Forces Agreement was signed. It took effect after was the Philippine Senate ratified it in May 1999.

In the year 2000, A US-RP Joint Defense Assessment was conducted to assess the capabilities of the AFP and its counterinsurgency campaign, and on this basis, determine the technical assistance, field expertise, and funding that the US could provide. The study was completed in 2003 and resulted in the formulation of the Philippine Defense Reform Program, which is being supervised by the US. It was supposedly a five-year program but has been running for eight years now. This further tightened the grip of the US Armed Forces on the AFP.

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  1. In my opinion, the Philippines is inconsequential to the economic viability of the U.S. The sick man of Asia, though an embarrassment of the democratic experiment, must nevertheless be given a lifeline. Lest it might seek the path of a Venezuela, confident as a responsible, mature global citizen, that places the welfare of its own people ahead of foreign, corporatist interests—one Venezuela too many? Sadly, the “lifeline,” courtesy of the U.S., has historically led to the empowerment of depraved “members” of Philippine society. There are answers to the Philippines’ dilemma. However, these solutions don’t stand a chance of fruition, as long as the elite and powerful in this country call the shots, literally and figuratively.

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