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US troops’ stay questioned,

by AJLPP Saturday, Sep. 06, 2008 at 6:53 PM 213-241-0995 337 Glendale Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90026

They are supposed to be only visitors, but after six years they are still around and some local officials are wondering whether they are already part of the Filipino family. Officially, they are called the “visiting forces” but there has been no sign that American soldiers are leaving anytime soon and the officials are asking why the “visit” seems to have become a permanent deployment. Vice Mayor Mannix Dalipe says the Arroyo administration and the Philippine military have to explain why American troops are still in Zamboanga City. “No one is giving us answers,” Dalipe said in an interview the other day.

AJLPP Update

Sept.5, 2008

US troops’ stay questioned, No sign of leaving after 6 years, say execs

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines—They are supposed to be only visitors, but after six years they are still around and some local officials are wondering whether they are already part of the Filipino family.

Officially, they are called the “visiting forces” but there has been no sign that American soldiers are leaving anytime soon and the officials are asking why the “visit” seems to have become a permanent deployment.

Vice Mayor Mannix Dalipe says the Arroyo administration and the Philippine military have to explain why American troops are still in Zamboanga City.

“No one is giving us answers,” Dalipe said in an interview the other day.

“Have we already thrown out to the waste basket our own sovereignty?” asked Edgar Araojo, a political science professor at the Western Mindanao State University (WMSU).

Araojo cited several US military facilities which he said had been established by the Americans in Zamboanga.

Among them, he said, were the headquarters of the Joint Special Operations Task Force Philippines (JSOTFP) inside Camp Don Basilio Navarro, an air asset facility inside the Zamboanga City International Airport, a docking area at the Majini Pier inside the Naval Forces Western Mindanao Command, and a training facility inside Camp Arturo Enrile in Malagutay village.

On Friday, Rear Adm. Emilio Marayag Jr., commander of the Naval Forces in Western Mindanao, initially said there was an ongoing military exercise here, which would explain the American presence.

Later, Marayag sent another text message, saying: “There is no joint exercise with us right now or in the past month.”

The United States in 1992 ended nearly a century of military presence in its former colony when it left the Subic naval base in Olongapo, Zambales, after the Philippine Senate refused to renew the two countries’ military bases treaty.

In 2002, under the panoply of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), US special forces numbering about 200 men arrived in Zamboanga with a mission of training Philippine soldiers in fighting terrorists on nearby Basilan island.

‘Healthy skepticism’

Over the years, their numbers have swelled to 600, with some units focusing on what officials described as humanitarian missions.

In Manila, the chair of the Senate committee on foreign relations, Miriam Defensor-Santiago, on Friday said the public should maintain a “healthy skepticism” about the presence of American soldiers in Mindanao.

She said the United States could easily reason out that its soldiers in the area were not combatants but part of humanitarian missions.

But Santiago said: “We need to monitor whether they are engaged in military exercises. We would have to entertain a healthy skepticism on the claim that they are (in Zamboanga) for purely humanitarian (reasons).”

Mindanao strategic to US

“If we are supplied with evidence to the contrary, then that would be a violation (of the VFA),” said Santiago, also a co-chair of the legislative oversight committee on the VFA.

Santiago acknowledged that Mindanao “is strategic to the United States’ military security.”

Sen. Rodolfo Biazon, co-chair in the committee, said: “They are supposed to be conducting training (as part of the Balikatan Exercises).”

According to Biazon, the training is an annual exercise so that after a batch of American soldiers is done with their work, a new batch is brought in.

Tell the public

The Philippine Constitution says that with the end in 1991 of the Philippine-US bases agreement, no more foreign bases, troops, or facilities shall be allowed in the Philippines, except under a treaty concurred in by the Senate and, when the Congress so requires, ratified by a majority of the people.

Dalipe claimed the contrary was now happening and said it was necessary for the government and the military “to make open to the public the policy (if there is new one) on why there’s a prolonged stay of American forces despite pronouncements that (they are here) temporarily.”

Marayag said that the US forces were only here for a “temporary stay.”

He said that each batch of US soldiers only stays for six months and they leave after their tour of duty.

“It is not permanent,” Marayag said.

But Marayag admitted there had been an increasing number of US troops coming in.

He said so-called “service contractors” were set up “kasi presence ng Americans and their engagements dumami (because the presence of the Americans and their engagements increased) compared to last year.”

Among the “engagements” that Marayag cited was the participation of US forces in the search for victims of the sinking of the ferry Princess of the Stars and of the C-130 crash in Davao City.

Frequent trips and big aircraft

Dalipe said he came to believe that the US deployment was not temporary when he saw five US military ships with several small sea vessels off the shores of barangays Recodo and San Ramon.

Dalipe’s family has a farm in Barangay La Paz near the villages.

Marayag confirmed the presence of the ships, which he said belonged to Glenn Marines Group of Companies, a US service contractor, but he said these were not military vessels.

Dalipe also noted that there had been frequent trips of “huge US aircraft using the Zamboanga City International Airport,” aside from smaller military planes.

He said he wanted to answer queries from residents about the continued presence of Americans and this was why he was trying to get explanations.

Araojo said the presence of the five US ships and of the American soldiers violated the country’s sovereignty. He also said there had been no military exercises that would warrant their being here now.

Akin to basing

“They are visitors, but it’s been over six years. The temporary stay of US service personnel dragged on and they are also using some of our vital installations. It’s already akin to permanent basing,” Araojo claimed.

Marayag said the facilities mentioned by Araojo were only temporary.

“What they are doing is still covered by the agreement (on deployment of foreign forces),” he said.

Celso Bayabos, director of the Air Transportation Office here, said he was also puzzled because US forces were expanding the structure they had built inside the airport.

“We have submitted a letter to the US forces to do something about it. Instead of initiating actions like moving it (away), they even added some structures making it bigger now,” he said.

With permission

Bayabos said he got information that what the American forces were doing had the “permission of the national office.”

Sought for comment, the US Embassy spokesperson in Manila, Rebecca Thompson, only repeated her usual statement that the “US forces are here at the invitation of the AFP and GRP.”

Asked about the continued presence of the US forces, Western Mindanao Command chief Lt. Gen. Nelson Allaga said in a text message:

“Eto na naman tayo, ano bang personal na galit mo sa Amerikano? At one time, sinabi mo na Mayor Celso Lobregat offered Zamboanga as American base, ngayon Zamboanga officials questioning? (Here we are again, what is your personal gripe against the Americans? One time, you said that Mayor Celso Lobregat offered Zamboanga as an American base, now you say Zamboanga officials are questioning).”

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