Maximum US gains at the least cost via VFA

By Satur C. Ocampo
At Ground Level | The Philippine Star

Last April 18-19, invited by the Patriotiko Mindanao alliance, I joined the culminating activities in Zamboanga City of the 2012 Mindanao-wide anti-Balikatan protest billed as “People’s Caravan and Lakbayan against US Militarism and Plunder.”

It was an exhilarating experience for me for two reasons:

1. Aside from the senior activists I met at the first People’s Caravan in 2002 — when the first Balikatan joint US-RP military exercises began in the armed-conflict areas of Basilan and Zamboanga — most of the 2012 participants were young, politically-keen people. I had brief but highly-satisfying interactions with them.

2. In contrast with the antagonistic reception we got in 2002, the city government, under Mayor Celso Lobregat, granted a permit for the activities, without any untoward disruption. The 2,000 participants were accommodated at the city’s sports complex. They marched peacefully through the city streets, and held programs at the city center’s Pershing Plaza.

It was a big gain for the campaign against the presence of US troops in Mindanao. Since 2002, no major rally such as this has succeeded in the city. (The US Joint Special Operations Task Force Philippines, or JSOTFP, is permanently installed within the AFP’s Western Mindanao Command headquarters in Zamboanga City.)

(I remember that in 2002, as the caravan entered the city, unidentified persons stoned the vehicles, injuring many of the participants. And although the protesters were allowed to use the sports complex, they were barred from marching to the city center because the local authorities had locked the gates.)

Other protest actions were held in the National Capital Region, Southern Tagalog and Central Luzon. But the problem sought to be solved appears to get even worse under the P-Noy government.

On April 30, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto del Rosario and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin will meet in Washington DC with their US counterparts (State Secretary Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta) to discuss, and possibly sign, an agreement to enhance US military intervention and increase troop deployment in the Philippines.

President Aquino is set to visit Washington later to co-sign the agreement with President Barack Obama.

An enhanced US role in Philippine internal affairs — definitely a derogation of our national sovereignty and independence — is part of the US defense plan to re-assert American dominance in the Asia-Pacific to (1) counter China’s rising economic and military power, and (2) “protect the US’ economic vitality and national interests.” The plan calls for maximum use of US treaty and executive arrangements with regional allies, including Australia, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines.

Given America’s unabashed objective to protect its economic vitality and national interests, shouldn’t the Philippines take a similarly assertive stand?

Disappointingly, as I wrote in this space last Feb. 11, we have been at the losing end of the 65 years of supposed RP-US “special relations.”

The Philippines has received economic aid in trickles despite our government’s faithful adherence to US foreign policy, trade and economic prescriptions that have even stunted our economic development. And notwithstanding the 1947 military assistance agreement, no commensurate military aid has been given despite Philippine support for US interventionist wars in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Regarding its operations in Mindanao, the US military brags that it has cost them so little to establish the JSOTFP and maintain their troops, deployed on “rotation basis,” to “advise, train and assist” AFP troops in operations against the Abu Sayyaf (supposedly without engaging in actual combat).

US Army Gen. Edward Reeder, quoted by US Today, said that it costs only $50 million a year to maintain the “small military contingent of about 600 US service members.” When one considers that the US has spent $2 billion a week in its war in Afghanistan since 2001 — yet the war has not been won — the “Philippine mission” as a component of the American “war on terror” comes very, very cheap indeed.

Reeder claims success in the anti-Abu Sayyaf campaign. Not only that. He boasts that “it is a future model for counterinsurgencies” with this specific module: “swoop into countries and help them extinguish an Islamic insurgency before it gains the strength of a Taliban” that would require an invasion force to defeat.

At the Washington bilateral talks on April 30, how many additional troops will the US want to add to its 600-man “small contingent?” What type of operations will they want to undertake outside of the Balikatan joint military exercises — which may not permitted under our Constitution?

The last question is important because one of the 10 “key military missions” calls for the US troops to conduct “stability and counterinsurgency operations alongside coalition forces whenever possible.” In fact, under JSOTFP they may already be doing that.

For instance, last April 18 a US vessel hit a fishing boat off the Basilan coast, killing fisherman Ahbam Juhurin and injuring his son. In a statement the US embassy said the vessel was on a “routine maritime activity” by the JSOTFP and AFP security forces.

Both the embassy and the AFP said the activity was not part of Balikatan 2012. So what was it about?

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April 21, 2012

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