“What is our government doing to ensure that the right to privacy of communications and correspondence of citizens is being protected? Is the US Embassy violating existing laws such as the Anti-Wiretapping Act and the E-Commerce Law, particularly the prohibitions on hacking and unauthorized access to data? If yes, what is our government going to do about it?” – ACT Rep. Antonio Tinio
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA — In stark contrast to the flurry of diplomatic protests by other governments reacting to new revelations of US spying activities worldwide, officials of the Aquino administration have displayed a worrying lack of strenuous response, Rep. Antonio Tinio of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers Partylist said on Thursday November 7.
Information published last week by the Australian news agency ABC revealed that the US had set up surveillance facilities in its various embassies and consulate offices including those in Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Phnom Penh, Bangkok, Yangon, Manila, Hong Kong, Taipei, Shanghai and Beijing. The information was reportedly based on a secret map and other documents included among the stockpile of information offloaded by Edward Snowden from the National Security Agency servers where he had worked as a contractual employee in the IT department.
The documents, first published by German newspaper Der Spiegel a week ago, detailed the Stateroom program, a US-led intelligence gathering scheme, which involves the interception of radio, telecommunications and internet traffic using equipment in US, British, Australian and Canadian diplomatic offices.
In reaction to this, the governments of Malaysia, Indonesia and China have already summoned the US, Australian and other international missions involved in the spy network to question them about their surveillance actions. In Germany, France, Brazil, Mexico and other countries, the US spy program has been roundly condemned by government leaders. In the Philippines though, “It is a great shame that the Aquino regime has kept quiet” against the US spy program, the revolutionary group Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) said in another statement.
Top officials in defense and foreign relations in the Philippines have not only refused to rise in protest against the US spy program, or at least particularly in response to disclosures that the Philippines is actually being used for US intelligence gathering, the Aquino government’s messages pointed even to defending or accepting such acts of spying. In a report, for example, the chair of the House committee on national defense and security, Muntinlupa Rep. Rodolfo Biazon, has dismissed the need to probe US spying being conducted here, as the Philippines, he said, is “an open book anyway. All our secrets, including those concerning national security, are openly discussed in Congress, the media and coffee shops,” Biazon said.
But it is disingenuous to claim that the Philippines is “an open book,” Rep. Tinio said, citing how the Freedom of Information Bill has not yet been enacted into law. Exemptions largely about “national security” have been introduced into the bill that its latest version was described by former Kabataan Partylist Rep. Raymond Palatino as “Freedom of Exemption” Bill.
Also, even in joint House committee hearings on activities of US troops in the Philippines, where Biazon also often participated, government defense officials and soldiers had been known to clam up over how the US troops were gathering intelligence data here.
“Intelligence-gathering by the US on the official as well as personal communications of our top government officials, will obviously compromise national interest, rendering the government even more vulnerable to intervention, manipulation, or destabilization,” said Rep. Tinio.
It is highly likely that the US government’s listening facilities here are also being used by the US to spy on Philippine government officials in the same way that the US was revealed to have monitored the phone calls of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other heads of states, the CPP said. It added that with such information in the hands of US spy agencies, US officials can then effectively press the right buttons to push for policies and laws which will serve US economic, military and political interests.
Filipino soldiers have also boasted from time to time that they are receiving and exchanging intelligence information with US troops operating in the Philippines, and that all these information had proven valuable or helpful in military operations.
So far, the US military has installations or unofficial bases in Camp Navarro in Zamboanga City; a high-tech facility reportedly for the “exclusive” use of US troops in Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City; and reopened parts of former US military bases in the Philippines such as Clark in Pampanga and Subic in Zambales. There are reports also of ongoing construction of another naval base supposedly for joint use of the Philippine and US military in Palawan; and in parts of Tarlac and Pampanga, Aeta leaders told Bulatlat.com last month that some Aeta villages risk dislocation as another portion of their ancestral domain is being fenced off to expand the US military reservation. Add to these, the reported search for an airport in the Philippines for US drones, the search for the site of US’ planned addition to its radar system in the Asia-Pacific and the already announced building of a national coast watch system to monitor the country’s coastal areas 24/7. These, even as the American and Filipino defense panels are still reportedly in the process of hammering out a new military basing accord.
“We are alarmed with this latest violation of our sovereignty by the US. It would be humiliating on the part of the Filipino people and a slap on our face if the Aquino government will not even file a diplomatic protest against the illegal espionage activity by the US,” said Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares.
For various patriotic groups, what is even more alarming with the confirmation that the US government is conducting surveillance and intelligence operations in the Philippines is the fact that the new US Ambassador in the country also happens to be a notorious spy.
The newly designated US Ambassador to the Philippines, Philip Goldberg, is known for his deep background in intelligence, having been Assistant Secretary of the US State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research. In 2008, as US Ambassador to Bolivia, Goldberg was expelled by the Bolivian government for his alleged involvement in destabilization activities. According to the British Daily Telegraph, Goldberg was declared persona non grata for “conspiring against democracy and seeking the division of Bolivia.”
“Goldberg is America’s next top stooge in the Philippines,” Anakpawis Partylist Rep. Fernando Hicap had said when US President Barack Obama announced Goldberg’s appointment as new US ambassador to the Philippines last August. Goldberg’s assignment in the Philippines and the fresh US military aid amounting to $50 million (P2.174-billion) will only mean more U.S. troops coming in, more joint war exercises and unending compromises between the Aquino government and the U.S. These are encroachments to our national sovereignty,” Hicap said.
The US military aid also represents a sudden uptick after years of declining US aid, corresponding with news that the US government is already building and upgrading military installations and bases in the country.
“What is our government doing to ensure that the right to privacy of communications and correspondence of citizens is being protected? Is the US Embassy violating existing laws such as the Anti-Wiretapping Act and the E-Commerce Law, particularly the prohibitions on hacking and unauthorized access to data? If yes, what is our government going to do about it?” asked ACT Rep. Tinio.
He urged the Philippines to demand that the US not only commits to dismantle its spying apparatus, but also to divulge how much information has been compromised and how it has been doing its surveillance here.