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An American Colonel Stokes Renewed Opposition to The VFA

August 28, 2009


The hackles of nationalist Filipinos have been quite properly been raised by newly revealed statement by a ranking American military official that his country’s GIs  do have the option of participating in combat activities.

Now apart from sharp-tongued Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, Filipinos led by a former president of the Senate are asking the Supreme Court to nullify the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement.

It was just last week that the U.S government announced it was extending the tour of duty of t a 600-man elite military unit that’s been stationed in at least three military bases in Mindanao, including Sulu and Basilan for years on end.

Petitioners led by former Senate President Jovito Salonga:

US soldiers are circumventing the Constitution as well as violating the sovereignty of the Philippines by visiting the country under the pretext of conducting training exercises, but are actually setting up long-term military positions.

Whether it is temporarily permanent or permanently temporary, the Constitution prohibits the setting up by foreign countries of military bases here, and establishing their permanent presence. That was emphasized in the Senate resolution ratifying the VFA in 1999.

Clearly, the purpose of their stay in the country is beyond training and capability building. As the article itself states, the logistical and intelligence support that the US has been providing to local fighters has been instrumental in their successes in killing and capturing leaders of militant groups and antigovernment organizations operating in the south.

The US troops are circumventing the prohibition against their permanent presence in the country by invoking the VFA for their supposedly short stay. However, no one really knows how long they are here, and the extent of their activities.

In the meantime that no one is able to monitor them, they are setting up installations that are not as large and as fortified as a military base, but serve the same purposes and house the same operations as an actual base.

Just yesterday, both the U.S. Embassy and the Department of Foreign Affairs hsd issued strong denials over the claim made by Balikatan fund mess whistle-blower Lt. Sr. Grade Nancy Gadian about US soldiers participating direcxt in combat operations against the Abu Sayyaf.

But at the Senate, Sen. Santiago quoted the following:

US Col. David Maxwell, former commander of the Joint Special Operations Task Force – Philippines (JSOTF-P):

The deployment of US troops was contentious in-country because the local press asserted that US forces could not legally participate in combat operations. However, a correct reading of the Philippine Constitution reveals that it prohibits only the stationing of foreign forces in the Philippines after the 1991 expiration of the Philippines-US agreement on military bases,” said Maxwell, identified in the article as commander of the initial battalion deployed in Operation Enduring Freedom-Philippines.

The Constitution does not prohibit combat operations and provides an exception to this-if there is a treaty in force-and a treaty has been in force between the two countries since 1951. A lack of understanding of Philippine laws contributed to US decisions to unduly restrict the employment of SF (special forces) advisers,

As the public debate heats up and with the current administration’s  term winding down, it will fall on the post Gloria Arroyo regime to open full-scale negotiations to sort out not only the VFA, but a new RP-US military bases treaty to pick up from the agreement which was voted down by the Philippine Senate in 1991 during the watch of now deceased President Cory Aquino.

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