By Satur C. Ocampo
At Ground Level | The Philippine Star
Take what I have to say in the spirit of academic discussion, she counseled in her lawyerly manner. But academic views are more than what she said thereafter: they provide explanations for many questionable acts of the Aquino government in its relations with the United States.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima has been known for her candid and bold statements. And that’s how she replied to questions, fielded by Rep. Emi de Jesus of Gabriela Women’s Party at last Wednesday’s House joint-committee public hearing on the Jan. 25 Mamasapano tragedy, about the US role in the “counterterrorism” operation codenamed Oplan Exodus.
In effect, de Lima’s statements can be deemed the first Cabinet-level acknowledgment – and justification – by the Aquino government, of American participation in the Mamasapano operation. Previously, the Department of Foreign Affairs had shamelessly echoed the US embassy’s stance that the planning and execution of the operation “were 100% Filipino… no US participation.”
(The operation resulted in killing its key target, Malaysian Julkifli bin Hir alias Marwan, wanted dead or alive by the US, with a $5-million bounty on his head. But the operation also led to the death of 44 PNP Special Action Force commandos, 17 Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters, and three civilians, including an eight-year-old girl.)
In staunch legal defense of President Aquino’s approval of Oplan Exodus and close cooperation with the US government, Secretary de Lima invoked provisions of the Visiting Forces Agreement (1999), the Mutual Defense Treaty (1951), and UN Security Council Resolution 1363 (adopted on July 30, 2001).
I missed hearing de Lima speak on television and didn’t come across any direct quotation from her in the print media. I here refer to the paraphrases or interpretations of what she said, culled from an internet posting by feisty journalist Inday Varona, titled “Little brown brothers: a whole new spin on sovereignty.”
• It’s not a problem that Americans (six of them, presumably soldiers) were with SAF chief Getulio Napenas at the Tactical Command Post on Jan. 25 monitoring the Oplan Exodus operation (through drones that provided real-time information about what was happening on the ground).
Note: Maj. Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan, 6th Infantry Division commander, gruffly told off one of the Americans, who he said had ordered him to fire artillery to assist the besieged SAF commandos in Mamasapano: “Don’t give me orders. I’m the commander here.”
• The Supreme Court ruling upholding the constitutionality of the VFA doesn’t mention any limits on specific activities involving US military personnel – only broad limits, including nonparticipation in combat. These define the “spirit” or latitude of US military activities in the country.
• We shouldn’t be concerned that the Americans might imperil their lives in combat, because the US wants to avoid more of its soldiers getting killed in action.
Note: In Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, here and elsewhere the US trains the local troops to wage its “war on terror,” with American soldiers as advisers.
• What the Constitution forbids are the setting up of foreign military bases and bringing nuclear weapons into Philippine territory.
Note: Under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), the US can set up “military facilities” (mini bases) in any “agreed location” anywhere in the country), store in and withdraw war materiel/equipment from them. Also it is standard US policy neither to confirm nor deny the presence of nuclear weapons in its warships that dock in Philippine ports.
• It’s within the realm of exercising national sovereignty for the President of the Philippines to solicit foreign military intervention.
Note: When the P-Noy government requested the US to intervene in the country’s disputes with China over small islands in the South China/West Philippine Sea, the US declared its “neutrality” in the disputes. It averred that the Mutual Defense Treaty does not apply in the case of those Philippine claims. But a similar US treaty with Japan covers the latter’s island claims, also against China’s, in the East China Sea.
• It’s not important what type of operation can involve US participation; what’s important is the control and decision-making power of the President. Should P-Noy opt to grant Americans the right to make the decisions on a particular operation, that’s his right within the ambit of his decision-making powers.
The House joint committees, during their hearing’s executive session (excluding the public), should endeavor to extract maximum information on the US role in the planning and execution of Oplan Exodus. Did that role have the explicit go-ahead of P-Noy?
Beyond the two RP-US agreements, Secretary de Lima invoked United Nations Security Council Resolution 1363, which requested all countries to comply with previous sanctions against the Taliban and Al Qaida in Afghanistan. It was adopted in July 2001, two months before the Al Qaida plane-crash attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, after which the US began its “war on terror” by invading Afghanistan.
On Sept. 28, 2001 the Security Council adopted Resolution 1373, which explicitly relates to the US “war on terror.” It binds all UN member-nations to adjust their national laws to accord with “existing conventions on terrorism” – without clearly defining “terrorism.” (Three resolutions were subsequently adopted, to clarify the term further.)
Passed with extraordinary speed – within three minutes – Resolution 1373 showed how arrogantly the US has tried to impose its will on the whole world. And in dealing with the Philippine government, it has no problem at all.
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Published in The Philippine Star
April 11, 2015