Protesters to US warship in CDO: “out now” but city gov’t welcomes visit

The USS Vandegrift docked in the city morning of March 25 allegedly for goodwill activities in the city.

But lawyer Beverly Musni,  convenor of Out Now! Mindanao said in a press statement that the arrival of the USS Vandegrift warship in Cagayan de Oro “for purportedly goodwill activities in the city is questionable as it is unwelcome. It comes only a month after the people of Mindanao waged widespread protests against the Balikatan exercises.”

Musni told MindaNews that the warship arrived morning of March 25  “absolutely without any notice to the public at large.”

“Neither the respective offices of  Mayor Constantino Jaraula nor of Governor Oscar Moreno had issued any statement prior to the arrival of USS Vandegrift,” she said.

“Absent their objections to the arrival of the warship, the presumption is that they had prior notice,” she said.

In her press statement, Musni said the US Navy ship's arrival “has surprised the people in Cagayan de Oro.”

The City Information Office late afternoon of March 24 issued a press statement titled “Mayor Jaraula set to welcome US Navy official.” The mayor, it said, was going to welcome the officers of USS Vandegrift the next day, as the ship makes a “goodwill port visit” for three days.

“Mayor Jaraula is optimistic that the goodwill visit of USS Vandegrift will boost the city’s reputation as a safe place in Mindanao where foreign guests can visit for tourism or investment purposes,” the press statement read.

It said that Commander Dean Rawls of the US Navy and commanding officer of the ship “extended the invitation to Mayor Jaraula and other city officials for a ship tour and refreshments when the ship arrives at 1 p.m. at the Macabalan Port Area, this city tomorrow,” the press statement read.
 
The visit of the ship, it said, “is part of the highlights of the recent inauguration of the MacArthur Memorial Marker at the Macabalan Port Area which established the significant role of Cagayan de Oro in Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s escape to Australia, and put the city in the map of world history.”
 
Mayor Jaraula said that with the inauguration of the MacArthur Memorial Marker on March 13,  “the city government successfully strengthened its diplomatic ties with the US Government and its people.”

While in Cagayan de Oro, officers of the USS Vandegrift “will visit an orphanage and interact with the orphans through reading books; playing games; donating toys, school and toiletry supplies and refurbishment of basketball hoops.”
 
The officers “will also turn over  materials to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) under its Project Handclasp that is expected to benefit women.”
 
While anchored at the Macabalan Port, the USS Vandegrift will accommodate local government officials and members of the Rotary Club for a ship tour.
 
According to its website, USS Vandegrift (FFG 48), named for Gen. Alexander A. Vandegrift, U.S. Marine Corps, was built at Todd Pacific Shipyards in Seattle, Washington, and was commissioned on 24 November 1984. The ship's inaugural cruise began on 5 January 1987.

“During the course of this around-the-world cruise, it sailed three oceans, seven seas and visited four continents. The plank owners also crossed the international dateline, equator, Greenwich  meridian, and sailed through the straits of Gibraltar, and the Suez and Panama canals. Vandegrift conducted operations with USS Kitty Hawk CV 63) in the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean. These operations were highlighted by an air and sea power demonstration for the President of Pakistan. Port visits included Pearl Harbor; Subic Bay in the Republic of the Philippines; Karachi, Pakistan; Mombasa, Kenya; Maxime, France; Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico; and St. Croix and St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. Vandegrift returned home to Long Beach in June, 1987.”
 
It was deployed to the Arabian Gulf seven times. By January 2003, it was “deployed for the eighth time to the Arabian Gulf in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation Enduring Freedom.”

“Assigned escort operations in the Straits of Hormuz, Vandegrift conducted over 50 transits, safely escorting over 78 vessels carrying over 1 million tons of hardware in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.  Additionally, Vandegrift seized two Iraqi mine-laying vessels in the Southern Arabian Gulf and was credited with protecting the Coalition’s flank from planned mine-laying operations.”

From 2003-2006, Vandegrift’s service in the Forward Deployed Naval Forces was marked by a series of “first ever” U.S. Navy ship visits.

The ship rrived in San Diego, California on 1 September 2006 completing her homeport shift.  It was assigned to Carrier Strike Group Eleven and Destroyer Squadron Twenty Three.  On 1 February 2007, it was re-assigned to Destroyer Squadron One.

The ship's decorations include the Meritorious Unit Citation, National Defense Service Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal; Southwest Asia Service Medal, and five Sea Service Ribbon.

Musni said  “the USS Vandegrift, by any means, is not on a goodwill mission. It is a guided-missile frigate that is the flagship of the commander of the Seventh Fleet.”

“This so-called goodwill visit cannot erase from our minds the recent report of a Filipina OFW raped by a US serviceman in Okinawa, Japan last February 18 (as the Balikatan exercises commenced in Mindanao). American forces have not shown goodwill in many parts of the globe, surely we can not expect the same in Mindanao.  For that we cannot simply allow US war vessels and troops to come in freely and roam our cities, now do we simply surrender our sovereignty,” Musni said.

“Vandegrift's message is unmistakable: the US brings its humanitarian and goodwill intentions at the tip of the barrel of the cannon,” she said. (MindaNews)

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