Defense chief: US troops here to stay

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/30 July) – US troops may remain in the country for as long as there is the problem of terrorism, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin told reporters here on Thursday.

Gazmin, who attended a command conference at the Eastern Mindanao Command here, admitted that no fixed timeframe has been set for the stay of American soldiers.

But he assured that the US troops would not take part in combat activities, in particular,  operations against the Abu Sayyaf in the southernmost island provinces of Basilan and Sulu.

US troops have been conducting joint military exercises with Filipino soldiers mostly in Mindanao and some parts of Luzon on the strength of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) signed between the two countries in 1999.

Most of the US troops in the country are stationed in Zamboanga City, Basilan and Sulu purportedly to conduct humanitarian missions in areas affected by hostilities between the Philippine military and the Abu Sayyaf.

Gazmin also disclosed that there will be a review of the VFA under the Aquino administration.

The militant Bagong Alyansa Makabayan (Bayan) has called on President Benigno Aquino III to review the VFA because as senator then he signed [the Senate resolution] calling for the review if not abrogation of the “grossly unequal” treaty.

Bayan has been claiming that US military aid to the country has an adverse impact on the state of human rights under the Arroyo government.

The VFA took effect in 1999, or eight years after the Philippine Senate rejected the renewal of the 1946 Military Bases Agreement and forced the US to leave Subic and Clark, its biggest military stations in Asia then.

The agreement allows US troops to hold joint military exercises with their Filipino counterparts in any part of the country.

However, VFA bars US troops from engaging in combat and any support is limited to providing logistical assistance, technical advice and intelligence to the AFP’s counterterrorism operations.

Some legal experts have opined that the VFA cannot be considered a treaty because it was not ratified by the US Senate but was merely signed by the US President. (Keith Bacongco/MindaNews)