‘Jusmag facility illegal’ – anti-US bases expert

Anti-US bases expert Dr. Rolando Simbulan said the presence of a US “sub-military camp” inside a Philippine military camp is not only “an insult,” but a violation of the Philippine Constitution.


MANILA — An anti-US bases expert said that the facility where US Marine Pvt. 1st Class Joseph Scott Pemberton is being held is not legal under the Philippine Constitution, nor under the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).

Pemberton, who is the main suspect in the brutal slay of Filipina transgender Jennifer Laude on Oct. 11 in Olongapo City, Zambales, is being held under US custody inside a container van-turned-facility of the Joint US Military Advisory Group (Jusmag) inside the headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City.

University of the Philippines professor Dr. Roland Simbulan said this violates Article 18, section 25 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution, which states that “foreign military bases, troops or facilities shall not be allowed in the Philippines except under a treaty duly concurred in by the Senate.”

In an interview with Bulatlat.com, Simbulan said US and Philippine authorities are trying to “legalize” the presence of such facilities in Philippine soil through the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca), which gives US “unhampered access” to “agreed locations.”

The VFA, which has been upheld as a treaty by the Supreme Court, provides only for “visiting” military and civilian personnel, and not for facilities.

The "Justice for Jennifer Laude, Junk VFA Network" lit candles in Quezon City on Oct 17.  (Photo by A.E. dela Cruz)
The “Justice for Jennifer Laude, Junk VFA Network” lit candles in Quezon City on Oct 17. (Photo by A.E. dela Cruz)

For such facilities to be allowed in Philippine territory, the Senate must first ratify Edca as a treaty.

“It’s an insult,” Simbulan said referring to Pemberton’s supposed detention at the Jusmag facility. The AFP initially referred to the facility as that of the Mutual Defense Board-Security Engagement Board (MDB-SEB).

The MDB was created under the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, while the SEB was created through the 2006 exchange of notes between Phil. Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo and US Ambassador Kristie Kenney. The MDB-SEB coordinates and liaisons activities for military cooperation between the Philippines and the US.

Simbulan said the 1947 RP-US Military Assistance Agreement, which is still in effect, created the Jusmag, which allows the presence of US military advisers.

“They (US advisers) are not supposed to have their own facility inside the military camp or anywhere. Organizationally, they are a part of the US embassy, they report to the ambassador. But they’re not supposed to be setting up camps or military facilities anywhere outside the US embassy,” Simbulan said.

No government official has questioned the establishment of the Jusmag facility in Camp Aguinaldo, which was made known to public only because of Pemberton’s transfer. Guarded by four Filipino military police outside its fence, the area has been declared off limits to media and the public.

The anti-imperialist group International League of Peoples’ Struggles (ILPS-Phils) had called it a “de facto US military base” within Philippine territory.

A long-time anti-nuclear weapons and anti-US bases activist, Simbulan is author of several books documenting US military intervention through its bases. He is also among other nationalists who have asked the Supreme Court to declare Edca as unconstitutional. He warned that Edca has many “objectionable provisions,” among which are that “disputes,” including crimes such as the Jennifer Laude case, will not be covered by Philippine or even international jurisdiction.

US “sub-camps”

Simbulan said the constitutional provision has not stopped the US from setting up similar facilities, or “sub-military camps,” inside Philippine military camps in Mindanao.

These include the headquarters of the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines inside Camp Gen. Basilio Navarro in Zamboanga City, in Mindanao, which houses 500 to 600 US troops “all year-round,” Simbulan said.

As early as 2002, Simbulan said a Jusmag facility has been at the said camp. He was able to visit it as part of the International Peace Mission, and saw for himself the US Special Forces technical, logistic and communications personnel at the camp.

The UP professor shared that in a plane trip to Zamboanga City, he sat beside an American woman from Hawaii, who, along with her child, was visiting her husband, a US serviceman assigned in Camp Navarro. Simbulan said the woman told him that her husband had been in the camp for already a year.

Simbulan said some legislators have questioned the US facilities inside Camp Navarro some 10 years ago, but the legislators were not even allowed inside the restricted area.

Even Filipino soldiers are not allowed inside, and are there only to keep guard.

Simbulan said the US government gets to cut down its expenses because it is the Filipino soldiers who keep security, instead of the usual US Marines.

“In a way, it (the facility) is less visible, it’s not exposed, because our military camps are not that accessible to civilians, specially big camps such as Camp Aguinaldo or Fort Bonifacio,” Simbulan said.

More US troops coming

“This time, they can deploy more,” Simbulan said, that with Edca, that there will be even more US troops, and more sub-military camps, in AFP camps scattered all over the country.

Simbulan said the US is eyeing to reduce its forces in Okinawa island in Japan because of the growing public uproar on their presence. There are 30,000 US troops in Japan and Simbulan said they are planning to reduce it down to 4,000.

The US military also prefers the Philippines as venue for military exercises because of the presence of local insurgency and armed bandits, said Simbulan. While they can only have simulated war games in Japan, here in the country, it’s an “on-the-job training” because they can practice their surveillance technology, intelligence and even new weapons against actual enemies, he said.

Although both the VFA and Edca does not allow US troops in combat operations, many incidents involving US servicemen had been documented, including the shooting of Buyong-Buyong Isnijal by US soldier Reggie Lane in Tuburan, Basilan in 2002.

Bound to happen

The more troops there are in a single country, the more crimes against the population will be committed, the UP professor said.

“These trends of violations committed by their forces are bound to happen, when they leave the camp and mingle and interact with the population. Here in the Philippines as well, there is more possibility that that crimes such as these will happen,” Simbulan said.

Simbulan noted that the Japanese government, which also has a military agreement with the US, was able to assert its sovereignty when American soldiers commit crimes against the locals. In recent years, several US servicemen have been convicted of rape and imprisoned by Japanese authorities. Simbulan said Japanese courts “from day one,” have taken custody of the accused, tried them, and sentenced them to prison.

“We should all the more assert custody to actually put him under our jurisdiction,” Simbulan said. “There’s no point in claiming that we have jurisdiction, if we have no custody.

They’re not even making sure that he appears in the preliminary investigation hearing being conducted by the fiscal.”

Simbulan said it’s natural for a government to be protective of its citizen, whether in another country, but specially in your own. If a Filipino commits a crime in another country, its government, as an act of its sovereignty, will apply the laws of the land.
“But here, the government does not even exercise the act of a sovereign nation to have jurisdiction and custody of those who violate our laws,” he said.

“Many of our leaders don’t seem to know our national interest,” Simbulan lamented, adding that that some government officials have become “spokespersons” of US interests.

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