COMMENTARY: US troops order to shut down hospital revives unanswered questions. By Herbert Docena

If US troops are only providing non-combat training for Filipino troops and conducting humanitarian operations, as both the US and Philippine governments claim, then what was their business forcing the closure of the hospital? If US troops are only supporting
Filipino troops, then why was the Philippine military unaware of their order? On whose authority did they give their shoot-to-kill ultimatum?

The order to close the hospital was initially denied by the spokesperson of the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P), the US military unit that has been stationed in Mindanao since 2002, but was subsequently admitted by the JSOTF-P’s commander, according to Sulu governor Abdusakur Tan. This adds to the record of
inconsistency in the pronouncements of US and Filipino officials on the actions of US troops in the country.

It is just the latest in a growing accumulation of incidents that have not been adequately looked into and have not been satisfactorily answered:

∑ On December 18, 2007, a helicopter carrying US troops was attacked in Bohe Suyak and Silangkom villages in Unkaya Pukan and Tipo-Tipo towns respectively in Basilan province –  the location of a camp of the Moro Islamic Liberation Camp, and at that time, the site of a Philippine military offensive against alleged Abu Sayyaf members. The US embassy claims the soldiers were only on a routine support and logistics mission; the town mayor said they were on their way to sign a memorandum of agreement for a road repair work. What were Americans doing in the very same village where fierce fighting was raging?

∑ In August 2007, the international wire agency Agence France Press photographed US troops leading a military convoy in Indanan town in Sulu, where military offensives were ongoing.

∑ In November 2005, US troops were seen by locals together with Filipino soldiers in the very same place and at the very same time when they were in an all-out pursuit of alleged "Misuari Breakaway Group" members in Sulu. They were spotted together with Filipino soldiers aboard trucks and Hummers or aboard rubber boats, mounting heavy artillery, operating military equipment, and removing landmines. Gen. Nehemias Pajarito, then commander of Filipino troopsinvolved in the operation, corroborated the witnesses’ statements but claims that the  Americans were only repairing water pipes as the fighting raged

∑ In June 2005, locals claimed to have seen US troops join Filipino soldiers in their operations against alleged Abu Sayyaf members in Maguindanao – even when no training exercises or humanitarian missions were announced.

∑ In June 2002, the Los Angeles Times reported that US troops exchanged gunfire with alleged Abu Sayyaf members, confirming that in  at least one known incident, US troops have already engaged in direct combat inside Philippine territory.

All these raise the question: Are US troops really just providing non-combat training to Filipino troops in Mindanao? Or are they waging war within Philippine territory – something that was explicitly prohibited by the Supreme Court in a decision in April 2002?

US troops themselves have made no secret of their answer to this question. While publicly playing up their participation in “humanitarian” missions, in various US military publications, they describe their mission in the Philippines as “unconventional warfare”
– a military term for a special category of operations that includes “guerilla warfare, subversion, sabotage, intelligence activities, etc” and which covers direct engagement of enemy forces. Revealing their attitude towards local laws, former JSOTF-P Commander Col. David Maxwell has gone on record to argue that the Philippine Constitution — contrary to the decision of the Supreme Court –  does not prohibit combat operations.

[MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Herbert Docena ([email protected]) is a researcher with Focus on the Global South, a policy research institute that has published two special reports on the US military in the Philippines, both available on the web: ‘Unconventional Warfare’: Are US Special Forces Engaged in an ‘Offensive War’ in the Philippines? (
war-in-the-philipp.html?Itemid=94) and ‘At the Door of All the East’: The Philippines in US Military Strategy (