Ilagan wants probe on “active role” of US in AFP operations

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/07 February) — Gabriela Women’s Party Representative Luz Ilagan of Davao City wants a probe on what she described as “extensive and intensive intrusion of the US military in AFP operations” in the country.

In a press statement, Ilagan cited several reports on the use of US spy planes, predator drones and unmanned aerial vehicles  in recent operations of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

“If these reports are true, then US troops are participating in and conducting operations beyond what is allowed in the Visiting Forces Agreement and directly transgress our sovereignty. More importantly, their participation in these operations is a potential magnet for the Philippines’ participation in a brewing US-instigated regional conflict,” she said.

Two suspected leaders of the Jemaah Islamiyah and an Abu Sayyaf leader were among 15 alleged terrorists killed in an air strike at 3 a.m. in Parang, Sulu on February 2.

Ilagan quoted Zamboanga-based Mindanao Examiner as saying the airstrike was believed “US-led” and that an unmanned US drone helped track down the targets.

Asked to comment on Ilagan’s statement, Tina Malone, Press and Information Officer of the US Embassy in Manila told MindaNews that the US military “does not participate in any operational actions in the Philippines, and serves solely in an advisory and support capacity at the request of the Philippine Armed Forces.”

“The presence of US troops and their direct combat participation has long been reported in Mindanao and has resulted in gross violations. These include the massacre in Ipil, Maimbung, Sulu which resulted to the death of eight civilians and the shooting of Buyong-buyong Isnijal in 2002. We reiterate our call for the immediate abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement and an end to US military intervention,” Ilagan said.

The Washington Post reported on January 26  that a delegation from the Philippines was engaged in bilateral talks in Washington to negotiate the expansion of the American military presence in the country.

Higher-level talks are scheduled for March between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and their Philippine counterparts and in May between  President Barack Obama and Philippine President Benigno Aquino in the White House.

“Among the options under consideration are operating Navy ships from the Philippines, deploying troops on a rotational basis and staging more frequent joint exercises. Under each scenario, US forces would effectively be guests at existing foreign bases,” the Washington Post said.

It also quoted Philippine officials who spoke under conditions of anonymity, that the Philippines was willing “to host American ships and surveillance aircraft.”

In  a statement on January 27, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said, “it is to our definite advantage to be exploring how to maximize our treaty alliance with the United States in ways that would be mutually acceptable and beneficial.”

“If there could be the possibility of threats to our national interest in terms of, say, territorial disputes, we should be prepared to deal with these issues diplomatically. To complement the diplomatic approach we must at the very least also endeavor to achieve a minimum credible defense posture,” he said.

He said the US “has offered to help us” and that beyond responding to some of the country’s needs like  military equipment and training, “to compensate for our lack of resources, we would want to additionally explore other means of acceptable assistance and cooperation from the US such as, for instance, planning more joint exercises to promote interoperability and a rotating and more frequent presence by them.”

But del Rosario stressed that any action taken “will be consistent with our treaty obligations and in accordance with Philippine laws and the Constitution.”

“Such cooperative efforts would as well result in achieving a balance of influence to ensure peace, stability, and economic development in the region,” he said.

Two days later, China’s state media called on its government to punish the Philippines by cutting off economic ties.

In its editorial titled “Make Philippines pay for balancing act,” the Global Times, one of several newspapers owned by the Communist Party of China, said the Philippines should be sanctioned and China should aggressively “respond” to the recent “maneuver.”

“The Philippines is a suitable target to impose such a punishment. A reasonable yet powerful enough sanction can be considered. It should show China’s neighboring area that balancing China by siding with the US is not a good choice,” it said in its editorial published as the banner of the newspaper’s website.

“Well-measured sanctions against the Philippines will make it ponder the choice of losing a friend such as China and being a vain partner with the US,” the strongly worded editorial added. (MindaNews)