Economy, Governance, Military & war

US aid and imperialism

For daring the US and others to withdraw their aid, President Rodrigo Duterte has been called a “psychopath”. For those whose way of thinking has been systematically warped by colonialism and neocolonialism/imperialism, it is plain madness. As a poor country, why would we shun the “altruism” of rich countries like the US?

On the contrary, the US would rather not stop its aid program here. Since our nominal independence from the US’s colonial rule 70 years ago, patronage through economic and military aid has been a key component of enduring US imperialist domination and plunder of the Philippines.

Beyond altruism

Data from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) show that from 2001 to 2014, total economic aid to the Philippines reached more than US$1.94 billion (in current prices). Total military aid during the same period reached almost US$566.11 million. That’s a combined US$2.51 billion in 14 years. Annually, the US disbursed US$138.95 million in economic aid and US$40.44 million in military aid or a combined $179.39 million every year from 2001 to 2014.

For 2015, preliminary USAID data show that the US disbursed $180.62 million in economic aid. There’s no 2015 data yet on military aid from the USAID online database. Reports, however, say that US military assistance for the Philippines was about US$50 million last year that will reportedly rise to US$79 million in 2016, on top of another US$42 million from the new US-Southeast Asia Maritime Initiative.

Further, note that US assistance to the Philippines has grown quite substantially under President Barack Obama and his declared US pivot to Asia. From 2010 to 2014, US economic aid increased by almost 15% in real terms annually. Military aid grew by almost 8% a year during the same period.

(US economic and military aid data since 1946 can be generated from USAID’s reports & data)

And we’re counting just the bilateral aid from the US. The US is also a major contributor to multilateral bodies like the World Bank and agencies of the United Nations (UN), which provide development aid to the Philippines as well.

That’s a lot of aid money that Duterte would be foregoing if the he will really spurn American patronage.

But as mentioned, there’s more to foreign aid than the simple altruism of donors. Aid, especially US aid, is used not for development cooperation but to advance the interests and agenda of the donor and deepen their patron-client relationship with the aid recipient. It is an effective neocolonial tool to foster continued dependence and subservience, and steer domestic policy making in directions that the donor wants. Lastly, aid is also a means for the US to directly create profit-making opportunities for their transnational corporations (TNCs).

Education, health, disaster relief

Remember how the US used the public education system as an integral part of their colonization campaign in the Philippines? It was far more successful in making Filipinos subservient to the colonizers than using purely military might. Colonial education was so effective that many Filipinos could not imagine life without the US. Just look at the reaction to Duterte’s stance on independent foreign policy.

It continues to this day through, among others, the use of foreign assistance. Classified by purpose, the largest bilateral US aid disbursed to the Philippines in 2015 was in Primary Education at US$25.33 million. Almost half of this amount, US$12.49 million, went to the Basa Pilipinas project of the USAID. Through this project, the US develops and distributes teaching and learning materials, English books and reading materials, etc. for local teachers to use for their Grades 1-3 pupils. Another US$5.35 million in US aid was also disbursed for Higher Education in 2015. (See Chart 1)


The second biggest chunk of US aid disbursement last year went to Material Relief Assistance and Services with US$20.37 million. They also disbursed US$3.84 million for Disaster Prevention and Preparedness; US$1.92 million for Emergency Food Aid; and more than US$1 million for Relief Coordination, Protection and Support Services.

The US has been using disaster relief to justify and expand their military presence in disaster-prone countries like the Philippines. The controversial Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), for instance, was justified using the pretext of humanitarian aid and disaster relief. American troops can base in military facilities here so they can preposition not just their weapons and war machines but also “humanitarian relief supplies”. (Read for instance, US Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent statement on EDCA made last July 2016)

Family Planning also traditionally gets a big portion of US aid with disbursement reaching US$17.08 million in 2015. Related sectors also got significant amounts such as Reproductive Health Care (US$3.94 million) and Population Policy and Administrative Management (US$0.43 million).

Population control has long been a strategy of US imperialism in the Philippines. In 1974, the USAID and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), among others, produced the “Kissinger Report”. It said that population growth threatens US access to the natural resources of poor countries. A large population of youth must also be controlled because they are most likely to challenge US imperialism. The Philippines is one of 13 countries identified in the Kissinger Report as primary targets of US-led population control efforts.

Public health is another major sector that the US has been long supporting in the country. In 2015, the US disbursed US$16.04 million in aid for Tuberculosis Control and more than US$0.90 million for STD Control including HIV/AIDS. A productive and efficient (and, of course, cheap) labor force is one of the primary resources that US imperialism exploits for super profits. Control of infectious diseases like TB and AIDS helps ensure an efficient workforce, which poor countries with weak public health systems due to imperialist plunder and underdevelopment could not afford

Plus, big US pharmaceutical companies that have monopoly over patented drugs used in these health programs are assured of markets. In the Philippines, for instance, the anti-TB campaign is a partnership between USAID and Johnson & Johnson, an American pharmaceutical and consumer goods giant.

Aid and policymaking

But the biggest impact of US aid in the Philippines is on how national economic policies and priorities are determined. Obama, for instance, introduced the Partnership for Growth (PFG) initiative. It is an aid program participated in and coordinated by the USAID, State Department, Millennium Challenge Corp. (MCC) and other US agencies as well as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and various UN bodies.

Through the PFG, the US deepens its role in national policy making such as through the five-year Joint Country Action Plan (JCAP), which identified priority areas for policy reforms in the Philippines. These include trade and investment liberalization, deregulation, effective enforcement of contracts with private business (such as those engaging in public-private partnership or PPP), as well as fiscal and judicial reforms.

An example of how US steers internal policy-making is the PFG’s centerpiece program in the Philippines, which is the $433.91-million grant from the MCC. The MCC is a highly conditional aid and requires the Philippines to, among others, maintain so-called “economic freedom” to continue receiving the grant.

One of the indicators of economic freedom, as designed by the MCC, is the Trade Policy Indicator. It measures the country’s openness to international trade based on average tariff rates and non-tariff barriers (e.g. trade quotas, production subsidies, government procurement procedures, anti-dumping, local content requirements, etc.) to trade. The “Compact” or agreement between the Philippine government (as represented then by the Aquino administration) and MCC is that the latter may suspend or terminate the grant if the country fails to reverse its policies that are inconsistent with the Trade Policy Indicator and other indicators designed by the MCC.

Also part of the implementation of the PFG is The Arangkada Philippines Project (TAPP) of the USAID and the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham). Through the USAID-funded TAPP, AmCham is pushing for 471 specific recommendations that promote the interest of foreign corporations in the country through greater liberalization, deregulation, privatization and denationalization. These are contained in the comprehensive advocacy paper “Arangkada Philippines 2010: A business perspective” prepared by the Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce in the Philippines (JFC), of which AmCham is a key member.

Under the TAPP, the JFC has been producing Legislation Policy Briefs that identify broad recommendations for Congress and the Executive. Among the many proposals of the JFC is the lifting of constitutional restrictions on foreign investments through Charter change (Cha-cha).

All these are in preparation for the country’s future membership in the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement. The TPP is an ambitious free trade deal and the latest campaign of US imperialism to further deepen and consolidate its economic domination in Asia Pacific in the face of a rising China. Just last March 2016, the US Chamber of Commerce, with funding from USAID under the PFG’s five-year US$12.84-million Trade-Related Assistance for Development (TRADE) project, released its “readiness assessment” of Philippine membership in the TPP.

The said report examined the “consistency of the country’s existing policy framework with the agreement’s requirements, and the implied changes that may be necessary if the Philippines is to meet these requirements”. As expected, one of the “implied changes” is liberalization through Cha-cha. (The full report may be downloaded here)

Military patronage

Lastly, the US employs military aid not to modernize the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) but to maintain its influence and control over our military. US military aid mostly comes in the form of Foreign Military Financing (FMF). Under the FMF, the US provides grants and loans to help the Philippines buy US-made weapons and defense equipment as well as acquiring defense services and military training.

In 2014, US$50 million in FMF was disbursed by the US to the Philippines out of the total US$57 million in military aid that year. The Philippines is traditionally one of the largest recipients of FMF among all US allies. It ranked fifth in 2014 in terms of FMF behind Egypt, Israel, Pakistan and Jordan. The country also accounted for 64% of US FMF in East Asia and the Pacific. (Data here)

However, military items that the country gets under the FMF and other US military aid programs are either surplus or second-hand and antiquated military articles. They are also not actually given for free but are sold at a discount (with a portion of the amount shouldered or waived by the US through the FMF).

Examples include the five-decade old US Coast Guard vessels (“Hamilton-class cutters”) that the US Navy has retired and sold to the Philippines. Since 2012, the Philippines has already bought two of these decommissioned ships for about US$25 million – and a third one is expected soon – through the FMF, Foreign Military Sales (FMS) and Excess Defense Article (EDA) programs.

The weapons systems of the ships have also been removed by the US prior to their turnover to the Philippine Navy. The country had to separately purchase from the US the vessels’ weapons and guns as well as additional technology including radar system, anti-ship missile system, etc. US military aid thus also means more business for the US military industrial complex.

Aside from FMF, other US military aid programs in the Philippines include counter-narcotics, military education and training, cooperative threat reduction, and counter-terrorism fellowship program. (See Chart 2)


Along with annual military exercises under the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), military aid fosters complete dependence of the AFP on US military technology, hardware and expertise. It also helps justify the continued presence of American troops in the country. But despite decades of US military patronage, the AFP remains one of the weakest and least modernized in the region. The Abu Sayyaf that the US has long been using to legitimize their military presence in the country persists and continues to terrorize the people.

Mutual respect, sovereignty

Foreign aid is not necessarily bad. It is, in fact, an important element of cooperation among countries to promote development. But as the case of US aid in the Philippines illustrates, aid could also be used to perpetuate the skewed relationship between the donor and recipient, between the colonial master and colony.

Such unequal, oppressive and exploitative relation between the US and the Philippines is the real reason why the country is underdeveloped and Filipinos are starving. If the Duterte administration rejects US aid to pursue a truly independent foreign policy and nurture development cooperation with other countries based on mutual respect and sovereignty, then we are already taking the initial steps to address the underlying causes of our poverty and hunger. ###

Human rights, Military & war

More than meets the eye: People’s fact-finding on Mamasapano

Life Interrupted: Civilian communities terrorized by commando assault in Mamasapano

Initial Report of the People’s Fact-Finding Mission
Mamasapano, Maguindanao
February 9-11, 2015

The Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) are participating in ongoing peace talks. Prior to the signing of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) last year, signed agreements between both parties were already in effect, one of which was the Agreement on the General Cessation of Hostilities signed on July 1997. This agreement established the mechanisms to prevent hostilities between the armed forces of both parties, in order to prevent danger to civilian populations.

Despite these agreements, the encounter between the PNP-SAF and the MILF forces in Mamasapano, Maguindanao on January 25 suggests the agreement on the cessation of hostilities was violated. The loss of civilian life during the incident raises serious questions regarding violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, which are investigated in this report.

The reports and testimonies gathered regarding the presence of US personnel in the area during the encounter attests to the continuing ‘War on Terror’ campaign of the US and Philippine governments, which have undermined the peace talks and the rights of innocent civilians.

There is more to the Mamasapano incident than meets the eye.

While the media coverage have so far mainly focused on the death of the 44 police commandos after the botched operation on January 25, little has been publicly said about the Moro communities in Mamasapano, Maguindanao. But on the ground, reports of human rights abuses, violations of the International Humanitarian Law during combat, and involvement of US military personnel were persistent. Spurred by these reports from the commnunities, Suara Bangsamoro, Kalinaw Mindanao and Kawagib initiated a People’s Fact-Finding Mission in affected barangays of Mamasapano, Maguindanao on February 9 to 11, 2015.

About 100 individuals participated in the mission, which included Moro leaders, human rights advocates, children’s rights advocates, church leaders, youth leaders, labor leaders, women leaders, and alternative journalists. Two progressive parliamentarians from Makabayan bloc – Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate and Gabriela Women’s Partylist Rep. Luz Ilagan – also spearheaded the mission.

The People’s Fact-Finding Mission covered four affected barangays in Mamasapano, Maguindanao where initial reports of abuses came from: Tukanalipao, Pidsandawan, Pimbalkan and Tuka. These covered about 5,000 individuals in the said barangays. The mission was able to collect 11 sworn affidavits, as well as recorded testimonies, photographs and videos of the interviews with witnesses and affected individuals, as well as photographs of the affected areas.

Among the cases of human rights violations, as well as violations of the International Humanitarian Law, that the Mission was able to document are the following:

  • Extra-judicial Killings
  • Frustrated Extra-judicial Killings
  • Forced Evacuation
  • Destruction of Properties
  • Divestment of Properties
  • Child Rights Violations

The Mission was also able to gather sworn affidavits from residents of the affected barangays who testified to the use of drones before and during the botched police operation on Jan. 25. In addition to these, it was also able to gather testimonies of various witnesses in Brgy. Tukanalipao who said they saw the body of at least one (1) US personnel (purportedly military) among the other remains of SAF commandos in the aftermath of the bloody encounters. Undoubtedly, this direct US involvment in a military/police operation in the Philippines amounts to a clear violation of the country’s national sovereignty.

Highlight Cases:

Extra-judicial Killings & Frustrated Extra-judicial Killings

At around four in the morning of January 25, farmer Badrudin Langalan, 18, just came from his farm and was on his way to charge his cellphone at the Tukanalipao proper when he was ostensibly chanced upon the position of the blocking force of SAF members before he was able to cross the wooden bridge. Later in the day, after the encounters and when residents started to bring the bodies of fallen SAF members to the barangay proper, Badrudin’s lifeless body was found among the fallen SAF members, his hands and feet were bound.

Meanwhile, around the same time that Badrudin chanced upon SAF members, Sarah Pananggulon, 8 years old, was sleeping with her parents and younger brother in their house in Sitio Inugog, Brgy. Tukanalipao in Mamasapano town when they were awaken by loud explosions and gunshots outside their house. They realized armed individuals whom they later identified as members of the Special Action Force (SAF) were shooting in their direction. Sarah was shot on her side, while her parents, Samrah Sampulna and Pananggulon Mamasalaga, were wounded as they tried to evacuate from their houses.

Forced Evacuation & Indiscriminate Firing

Farmers Iskak Salao, 48, and Saada Teb, 25, were residents of Sitio Inugog, Brgy. Tukanalipao. They were sleeping in their respective houses when they and their neighbors heard gunshots. Iskak, Saada and many others were compelled to evacuate from their houses, as members of SAF fired upon their location. Saada, a mute and a student of the Mahad (one of 330 Arabic students in nearby madrasah in Brgy. Inugog), was hit by a bullet. Since then, the students and the Arabic teachers have not resumed classes and residents remain evacuees because of fear that their community will be again assaulted.

Meanwhile, Amina Kamiron, 40, lives in Tukanalipao proper, which is a few kilometers away from the site of encounters. She was taking her bath when she heard loud gunshots. She was shocked and fell on the floor. Amina was brought to hospital and is still recuperating, as of this writing.

At around nine in the morning of Jan. 25, residents of Tukanalipao proper who live along the main road were forced to evacuate from their homes when SAF tanks stationed along the main road began indiscriminately firing on their houses. They showed to the Mission members the holes in their concrete houses which were supposedly caused by gunshots from the tanks.

An estimated 1,500 residents of different barangays also hastily evacuated to nearby communities where they had relatives, according to the ARMM HEART program of the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

Divestment of Properties

Several residents who live along the highway in Brgy. Tuka complained that SAF members, who were stationed along the highway during the entire time of the encounters, had divested them of their properties. At four in the morning, Saneah Solaiman, 25, complained that SAF members allegedly divested Saneah of her belongings—among others, three pots, cups, kettle and goods from her sari-sari store.

ARMM HEART data revealed that P300,000 worth of farm crops were destroyed during the encounters, while more than a million pesos worth of properties were partially or fully damaged. Six (6) houses were partially damaged.

Other faces of grief

The women shared the ordeals they and their children had to go through to escape the fighting. There was indiscriminate firing and they had to either crawl or dash to safer grounds, some with a baby or toddler in hand. The women who lost their husbands told the FFM of the grief and the economic uncertainty they now face.

The wives of the saheed (martyrs), four elements of the MILF who were fired upon and killed upon by an unidentified SAF element while they were sleeping in a pangguiamanan (mosque-hut) near the tulay na kahoy (wooden bridge) at two in the afternoon of January 25 in Brgy. Tukanalipao, also told their worries to the fact-finding team through a discussion group with the women’s team. Their husbands who were killed are Omar Dagadas, 24; Ali Ismael, 25; Mosif Hassim, 22; and a certain Rasul, 21, were members of the 105th Base Command of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Child Rights Violations

Classes in elementary and high school students of different public schools in the various barangays were disrupted by the heavy fighting on January 25. School officials of Linantangan Elementary School in Tukanalipao proper told the Mission that the said school was forced to cancel classes for two weeks after the incident.

According to ARMM HEART, 13 schools with 5,963 students and 124 teachers were affected by the bloody encounters. Aside from this, classes for the 300 Mahad/Arabic students were also disrupted.

During the psychosocial intervention to the children affected, the team found out that children are traumatized due to the incident and their consequent evacuation. According to the children, the encounter occurred because the PNP SAF did not inform the community and the MILF regarding their operation. They also narrated some of their experiences. They also recalled the deafening sounds of gunfire and how they evacuated. Most of the children were among those families who were temporarily displaced due to the incident. According to them, they stayed in several houses and barangay centers that served as the temporary evacuation center for two days and were only able to attend class a week after the incident. Many of them are still afraid, especially during night time. According to them, they fear nightfall as the incident might happen again. Their daily routines disrupted specially on education and economic aspect and they have the feeling of insecurity. Up to this time, many pupils have not reported back to school.

Deep US involvement

The Mission was able to interview, on condition of anonymity, some witnesses who said they saw one Caucasian (“white-skinned, long, blue-eyed, and had narrow, long noses”) who died among the SAF members in Brgy. Tukanalipao. Meanwhile, several residents from Tukanalipao, Pidsandawan, Lusay and Tuka submitted sworn affidavits that state that they saw drones fly above their communities for at least seven (7) days before the bloody encounters on Jan. 25. One witness said that the drone would hover above their houses, sometimes waking them up at night. Meanwhile, residents of Brgy. Tuka and Brgy. Pidsandawan called the drones “airplanes” that twinkled at night time. However, the night before the clash the sound of the drones was exceptionally noisy and busy. The drones, they said, were gone after Jan. 25.

Preliminary Findings: 

  • The PNP-SAF police operation undermined the civilian community and GPH-MILF peace process;
  • There was a violation of the ceasefire agreement or the Agreement on the General Cessation of Hostilities that resulted in a breach in the peace negotiations and human rights violations;
  • The lives of the residents have yet to return to normal, the farmers cannot easily go back to their farms for fear of possible clashes, and unexploded bombs continue to reside in local fields;
  • There is no normalcy in the lives of child residents, as evidenced by the significant decline in the attendance of students in elementary schools;
  • Further investigation should be undertaken into the role of the US government in the Mamasapano incident, based on the following reports: that US troops were seen during retrieval operations; that drones were heard and seen flying before and during the police operation; and that possible Caucasians were sighted with the PNP-SAF during operations, including the body of an alleged Caucasian among the slain PNP-SAF;


  • The government must indemnify, give justice to the victims of human rights violations and be held accountable for the Mamasapano encounter;
  • Violations in the ceasefire agreement should be seriously looked into;
  • US participation in the Mamasapano incident must be investigated;
  • Call for an independent body, such as a truth commission or a people’s movement for truth and accountability, to probe deeper into the Mamasapano incident.

Aside from initiators Suara Bangsamoro, Kalinaw Mindanao and Kawagib, other groups from various provinces in Mindanao as well as national organizations joined the mission, namely:

KARAPATAN-Southern Mindanao Region
KARAPATAN-West Mindanao
Gabriela Women’s Partylist
Children’s Rehabilitation Center
Union of People’s Lawyers in Mindanao
Kilusang Mayo Uno
Nonoy Librado Development Foundation
Sisters Association in Mindanao
Oblates of Notre Dame
Social Ministry Episcopal Diocese for Southern Philipppines
Cotabato Annual Conference – United Church of Christ in the Philippines
United Methodist Church in the Philippines
Liga ng Kabataang Moro
League of Filipino Students
Panalipdan-Southern Mindanao
Community-Based Health Services Association
Anakpawis Partylist
Bayan Muna Partylist
Alternative media outfits Pinoy Weekly, Radyo Ni Juan Network and Kilab Multimedia

Human rights, Military & war

US troops: A pattern of atrocities

Photo from LGBTQ Nation

Photo from LGBTQ Nation

For Filipino and American officials, “there can’t be a worse timing” in the murder of Jennifer Laude allegedly by a US Marine, later identified as Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton. The Philippines and the US are discussing the implementation of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), signed early this year. It will allow the US to build more military bases and station more troops in the Philippines through so-called “agreed locations”. But the possible involvement of a US Marine in a heinous crime will make the already controversial EDCA contentious even more.

Olongapo City, where Laude was brutally killed, is among EDCA’s expected “agreed locations”. In less than a decade, Olongapo has now seen two high-profile criminal cases involving US soldiers. In 2005, Lance Corporal Daniel Smith raped a Filipina there while fellow marines cheered him on. The city’s Subic Bay has been a frequent host to US warships and troops that participate in military exercises through the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). Subic Bay used to be a US naval base until 1992. But the Americans, through the VFA and now, EDCA, really never left it.

For our Defense department, the Laude murder is an “isolated case” and should not be blamed on EDCA or the VFA. But the growing presence of US troops in Subic and other parts of the country has resulted in increasing incidents of criminal acts done by American soldiers. Aside from the rape and murder in Olongapo, US troops were also implicated in less publicized incidents of criminal acts.

One was the Gregan Cardeño case in 2010. Cardeño was an interpreter hired by an elite unit of US Special Forces called the Liaison Coordination Elements (LCE). He was found dead inside a Joint Special Operation Task Force (JSOTF) facility in Camp Ranao in Marawi City on Feb. 2, 2010 after allegedly committing suicide. Less than two months later, Capt. Javier Ignacio of the Philippine Army – a friend of the Cardeños helping to shed light on his death – was shot dead by unidentified gun men. Before his death, Cardeño separately called his sister and wife and told them that his job was “hard and not what he expected”. Ignacio, meanwhile, was killed while on his way to meet human rights groups to execute an affidavit on what he discovered about Cardeño’s death.

Another was the Abham Juhurin case in 2012. Juhurin and his son were on their small fishing boat off Hadji Mutamad town in Basilan when the US military speedboat Mark V hit them. Juhurin was killed while his son suffered injuries. Philippine military authorities quickly absolved the Americans, claiming that the fishing boat had no lights. No investigation was conducted to determine the liability of the US troops as the Americans quickly sought a financial settlement with Juhurin’s family.

Laude’s death is an isolated case? There is clearly a pattern of atrocities against civilians whenever and wherever there is US military presence.

In Okinawa, Japan, host to about 26,000 US troops, some 5,584 criminal cases involving American soldiers have been reported. The cases include murder and rape, among others. There was a gang rape of a 12-year old girl by three US service personnel. The latest rape case was just last year where the US soldiers also robbed their victim.

Worse, like in the Philippines such as in the Subic rape case, US soldiers found guilty of sex crimes in Japan did not go to prison, according to an Associated Press (AP) report early this year. Offenders were simply fined, demoted, restricted to their bases or removed from the military. In about 30 cases, a letter of reprimand was the only punishment, said the AP article. It added: “Even when military authorities agreed a crime had been committed, the suspect was unlikely to serve time. Of 244 service members whose punishments were detailed in the records, only a third of them were incarcerated.”

Just a couple of months ago, US troops in Seoul, South Korea were accused of “inappropriate behavior”. On May 31, 2014, two American soldiers sexually harassed two female employees in a local theme park and assaulted their male co-worker. Intoxicated, the US soldiers refused to cooperate with the police, punching one officer and spitting in his face, according to reports.

These are just the latest incidents of abuse by US troops in South Korea, which also include the rape of an 18-year old girl in 2011. Government data show that there is a rising crime rate among US servicemen in the country. Between 2000 and 2010, rapes rose from zero to 11; burglaries from 9 to 24; and violent crime in general from 118 to 154, according to authorities. US officials dismissed the figures as “low” considering that they have 28,500 troops stationed in South Korea. What arrogance!

US military presence is supposed to guarantee our security. But the brutal murder of Laude reminds us that the presence of US troops is a threat to the security of our own people. That we can’t have custody over a criminal US soldier reminds us how our supposed friend and ally utterly disrespect our sovereignty as a country.

With the VFA and EDCA, and the overall submissiveness of our foreign policy to US interests, there will be more Jennifer Laudes. The next victim of US atrocities could be a transgender, or a woman; it could be a farmer, or a fisherman; maybe even a child.

Military & war

EDCA economics

Photo from here

Photo from here

IBON Features

Philippine sovereignty remains seriously challenged even as the country marks its (supposed) 116th Independence Day on 12 June. The biggest threat still comes from the US especially amid its so-called pivot to Asia. This foreign policy of the Obama regime involves the deepening of US-PH colonial ties such as through the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).

Recently signed, EDCA is now the most blatant symbol of US intervention in the country, much like the old US military bases in Subic and Clark. And like before, government is reciting all sorts of benefits to justify what is an essentially new basing deal with the Americans.

Economic gains?

One of the supposed gains is economic. The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) claims that EDCA will further benefit the Philippines “through the provision of jobs and other economic opportunities in the construction activities… and procurement of local goods and supplies by the US military and personnel.”

Local construction firms, professionals and experts are expected be hired by the US military to build their facilities in so-called “Agreed Locations” under EDCA. Entrepreneurs near these agreed locations will profit as well due to demand for services and products from American troops.

EDCA defines Agreed Locations as facilities and areas that are provided by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) for access and use by US forces and contractors. Although denied by officials, these shall effectively function as military bases for the US, including prepositioning materiel. Agreed Locations can be anywhere in the Philippines, even in areas where there are no existing AFP bases.

Meanwhile, improved business confidence is another purported economic gain from EDCA. The presence of US forces is claimed to provide stability that local and foreign investors seek. The military deal is said to reinforce stability in Asia, which underpins growth in the region.

No preferential treatment

Alas, like its supposed defense and security benefits such as AFP modernization, maritime domain awareness, etc., authorities are overstating EDCA’s economic gains.

For one thing, EDCA does not require the US to give preferential treatment to Filipino firms to build facilities in agreed locations or supply the needs of American troops. On the contrary, it gives the US the exclusive right to choose its own contractors and suppliers.

Article VIII paragraph 1 of EDCA states: United States forces may contract for any materiel, supplies, equipment, and services (including construction) to be furnished or undertaken in the territory of the Philippines without restriction as to the choice of contractor, supplier, or person who provides such materiel, supplies, equipment, or services. Such contract shall be solicited, awarded, and administered in accordance with the laws and regulations of the United States.

What EDCA merely requires is for the US to make the best effort to hire Filipino contractors and suppliers although this too shall conform to US policies. Paragraph 2 of Article VIII states: United States forces shall strive to use Philippine suppliers of goods, products, and services to the greatest extent practicable in accordance with the laws and regulations of the United States.

Bases for US profits

Building and maintaining foreign military bases have become a lucrative industry in the US, and is dominated by a handful of private American contractors. Based on one rough estimate, private contractors raked in $385 billion in overseas bases in the past decade with the 10 biggest groups cornering one-third of the amount.

The central role that profit-seeking contractors play in nearly 1,000 US foreign military bases worldwide has been made possible by the privatization of logistics and core military roles in US wars and intervention. As one study published in the Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies put it, “To economically and efficiently ‘manufacture’ the ‘product’ known as security, the DoD (US Department of Defense) has increasingly operated like a transnational corporation: it has adopted the corporate strategies of rightsizing, outsourcing, and offshoring.”

Private contractors perform various functions outsourced to them by the US Defense department – from the construction and security of foreign military bases to “running dining facilities and performing laundry services” inside these bases. Retired US defense and military officials usually found and head these private contractors, explaining their tight relationship with Pentagon.

Thus, it is not surprising that the US Defense department ensured that EDCA would not tie their hands as to their preferred contractors that will provide goods and services in Agreed Locations.

American contractors

Even before EDCA was signed, some of the biggest American private contractors have already been working in the Philippines to support US military operations here. One of them is DynCorp International, which has a $16.34-million contract with the US Navy to perform “labor, supervision, management, tools, materials, equipment, facilities, transportation, incidental engineering, and other items necessary to provide support services” to the US Joint Special Operations Task Force – Philippines (JSOTF-P).

JSOTF-P forces have been rotationally deployed by the US in Mindanao since 2002 through the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). Their deployment was part of the so-called war on terror of the then Bush administration. They keep facilities inside AFP bases in Zamboanga City, Maguindanao and Sulu. These facilities are being maintained and secured by DynCorp.

Another is Huntington Ingalls Industries, which builds ships for the US Navy and Coast Guard. In 2012, Huntington Ingalls forged a service deal with giant South Korean firm Hanjin Heavy Industries to provide maintenance, repair and logistics services to the US Navy at Subic Bay. The contract was apparently in anticipation of increased US military presence in the country that will now materialize under EDCA.

Exploiting workers

At best, the only possible economic “benefit” that Filipinos may have under EDCA is as a source of cheap labor. To further bloat their profits, US military contractors usually subcontract to a third party (e.g. recruitment agency) the hiring of workers to perform low-paying jobs inside US military bases.

This system, as a study by Al Jazeera disclosed, is being used to exploit the workers. DynCorp and other US contractors in Afghanistan, for instance, collude with recruiters to charge exorbitant fees to workers and pay them cheap wages while working 12-hour days with little or no time off to do the “cooking, cleaning, laundry, construction and other support tasks necessary to operate military facilities”.

Worse, EDCA does not only not provide protection mechanisms to workers but also in fact deprive workers of using Philippine laws to safeguard their rights and welfare. As pointed out by the petition submitted by Makabayan and others to the Supreme Court (SC) questioning EDCA’s constitutionality, Article XI of the deal states: “Disputes and other matters subject to consultation under this Agreement shall not be referred to any national or international court, tribunal, or other similar body, or to any third party for settlement, unless otherwise agreed by the Parties.”

Such disputes may include violation of labor rights, which is worrisome since Article VIII of EDCA allows the US to hire contractors without any restriction. This means that even the most notorious contractors such as DynCorp and their partners like Hanjin (also infamous for the series of deaths of their shipyard workers in Subic) will continue to land deals under EDCA.

Another possible source of “jobs” are the services for the “rest and recreation” of American troops. But this also means increased exploitation of Filipino women as red light districts near Agreed Locations are sure to thrive like in the heydays of Subic and Clark.

Certainly, these are not the sorts of “economic opportunities” we seek under EDCA.

Generous perks

In reality, it is the US and its contractors who stand to gain the most economic benefits from EDCA. Agreed Locations, as specified in Article III paragraph 3 of the agreement, for instance, shall be made available without rental or similar costs.

And while the country allowed the US to use the Agreed Locations rent-free, the Philippines may still have to compensate the US for the “improvements or construction” in the Agreed Locations, as stated in Article V paragraph 2 of EDCA. The same thing is true with equipment stored in the Agreed Locations, which the Philippines may still need to purchase from the US subject to its laws and regulations (Article V paragraph 5).

Furthermore, US contractors and troops can use public utilities such as water and electricity tax-free, as stated in Article VII paragraph 1 of EDCA. It will be the Filipino taxpayers who will be shouldering the tax burden on the use of such public utilities by US contractors and troops. As noted by the Makabayan petition against EDCA, no private company in the Philippines currently enjoys such generous privilege.

Impact on livelihood

Government is clearly exaggerating the supposed economic gains from EDCA while concealing the fact that negotiators gave too many unjustifiable perks to the US. Aggravating the matter is the likelihood that increased US military presence and operation under EDCA will harshly impact on the livelihood of local communities where the Agreed Locations will be established. Already, Balikatan military drills have been affecting local livelihood such as the small fishers who are being displaced during naval exercises by US and Filipino troops.

Government will also likely acquire more lands or areas to build military facilities in order to accommodate Agreed Locations that the US wants to establish. This is because some locations that the US finds suitable may not be hosting AFP bases. In Subic, for example, which is now a free port zone, the AFP is negotiating with civilian authorities to establish its bases there so that a portion of it can be used as an Agreed Location.

What if the US wants to build a naval or air force facility in Palawan or Batanes where there are fishing or farming communities? The US is notorious for displacing whole communities just to build its bases such as what it did in Okinawa and Diego Garcia.

EDCA is evidently a lopsided agreement that violates our sovereignty while promising false gains. It has always been the case in our more than a hundred year old relationship with the US. Something needs to change. ###

Global issues, Human rights, Military & war

Sabah crisis: Is Aquino siding with Malaysia to protect relatives’ business interests?

Presidential cousin and funder Tonyboy Cojuangco's AirAsia pals transport Malaysian army reinforcements to Sabah. (Photo from Borneo Inside)

Presidential cousin and funder Tonyboy Cojuangco’s AirAsia business pals transport Malaysian army reinforcements to Sabah. (Photo from Borneo Inside)

The “journey home” to Sabah of some 200 followers of the Sultanate of Sulu more than a month ago has escalated into a full blown humanitarian crisis. More than a thousand Filipinos have fled Sabah that for decades they called home. Men, women and children took any boat available in a frantic and perilous voyage away from the brutality of Malaysian forces. The number of refugees in Tawi-Tawi from Lahad Datu and other affected towns in Sabah is expected to grow in the coming days.

Those who fled recounted the atrocities that Filipinos suffered in the disputed territory. “Malaysian policemen ordered Filipino men to run as fast as they could and shot them,” said a report by the Philippine Daily Inquirer. “Even pregnant women and children have been hunted down and killed as the Malaysians fire mortars and embark on a house-to-house search,” according to the Philippine Star. These people are not part of the armed followers of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III. They just happen to be Filipinos.

Some are baffled while most are enraged by the attitude of the Aquino administration towards the Sabah crisis. From the onset, President Benigno Aquino III took a hardline stance against the Sulu royal forces. Jamalul’s brother Rajah Mudah Agbimuddin Kiram and his men must surrender before any talks can happen, Aquino insisted. Charges are being prepared versus the Kirams, claimed the Justice department. They may also be turned over to Malaysian authorities to face prosecution. Malacañang sowed intrigues to cast doubt on the motive and legitimacy of the Sultanate. The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) is probing the alleged conspiracy between the Kirams and certain politicians. All these even as Aquino ignored appeals by the Sultanate and the United Nations (UN) to stop the Malaysian military assault and for parties to talk.

Palace and Foreign Affairs spokespersons, of course, expressed concern over the reported human rights abuses in Sabah. But their statements are meaningless amid the brutal military offensive launched by Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak that Aquino practically sanctioned with his reckless position. The public perception is that Aquino abandoned his own people, surrendered the country’s rightful claim to Sabah and sided with Malaysia. Thus Aquino, like Razak and his forces, is responsible for the carnage of Filipino men, women and children in Sabah.

But why is Aquino siding with Malaysia? One plausible explanation noted by analysts is the ongoing peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) where Malaysia plays a key role as facilitator. Aquino does not want to displease Malaysia and risk undermining the negotiations.

However, it is also notable that since taking over in 2010, Aquino’s relatives who bankrolled his presidential bid have inked business deals with Malaysia. Could these business interests be another possible explanation for the administration’s handling of the Sabah crisis?

What are these business deals? One involves San Miguel Corporation (SMC) of Aquino’s uncle Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr. In August 2011, SMC acquired three subsidiaries of US oil giant Exxon Mobil’s downstream oil business in Malaysia. Worth $610 million, the transaction included the purchase by SMC of Esso Malaysia Bhd, Exxon Mobil Malaysia Sdn Bhd and Exxon Mobil Borneo Sdn Bhd. In its website, SMC said that the three companies form an integrated business engaged in refining, distribution and marketing of petroleum products. The physical assets include the 88,000 barrels per day Port Dickson refinery; seven fuel distribution terminals; and about 560 refilling stations.

SMC’s entry into the Malaysian downstream oil industry could be just the initial steps. Ramon S. Ang, president of the giant conglomerate, recently disclosed that SMC is eyeing big oil and natural gas field overseas. “If we were able to buy one of those, it would be like printing money forever,” Ang was quoted as saying. SMC is so serious about the plan that Ang said they are willing to let go of longtime core business San Miguel Brewery Inc. and new assets in power generation to raise funds. With its acquisition of Exxon Mobil’s downstream assets, SMC is in a strategic position to also corner upstream deals in oil-rich Malaysia.

The disputed state of Sabah itself is abundant in oil and gas resources. An article by the Philippine Star, quoting a 2012 study by Singapore-based FACTS Global Energy, reported that Sabah has reserves of about 11-12 trillion cubic feet of gas and at least 1.5 billion barrels of oil. The figures represent 12% and 15% of Malaysia’s natural gas and oil reserves, respectively, according to the report. Another article, by the Centre for Research on Globalization, noted that Sabah has 15 oil wells that can produce as many as 192,000 barrels a day. Also, four new oil fields have been discovered in its territorial waters in the past two years further increasing Sabah’s potential as oil producer.

Is Aquino avoiding displeasing Malaysia over the Sabah dispute so as not to undermine the grand multibillion dollar oil and gas ambitions of SMC and uncle Danding?

Another business deal involves AirAsia Philippines, the local affiliate of Malaysia-based AirAsia Bhd, the largest budget carrier in Southeast Asia. In November 2010, the Board of Investments (BOI) approved the formation of AirAsia Philippines as a joint venture between Malaysian investors and Filipino businessmen led by the President’s cousin Antonio “Tonyboy” Cojuangco Jr. Tonyboy and his Malaysian partners are aggressively expanding their operation in the Philippines with their recent acquisition of at least a 40% stake in local rival Zest Airways Inc.

Does Aquino fear that the contentious Sabah issue could somehow complicate the blooming Malaysian business partnership of his cousin Tonyboy?

Aquino could not just ignore the interests of his rich relatives. He won’t be President without their vital support.

Tonyboy was the biggest campaign donor of Aquino in 2010, based on the President’s official declaration to the Commission on Elections (Comelec). Out of the P440 million in campaign funds declared by Aquino, Tonyboy’s contribution accounted for almost a quarter with P100 million. While Danding was not officially listed as a campaign donor, it is widely known that the tycoon and Marcos crony also supported the candidacy of his nephew.

If these business interests of his relatives played a key role in Aquino’s handling of the crisis, then the slaughter of our men, women and children in Sabah becomes much more revolting and enraging than it already is. (End)

Military & war

Tubbataha grounding: Expect more abuses as US pivots to Asia

Environmental advocates and activists protest the grounding of the USS Guardian on Tubbataha Reef, call for the junking of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and immediate pullout of US troops from the Philippines. (Photo from

Environmental advocates and activists protest the grounding of the USS Guardian on Tubbataha Reef, call for the junking of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and immediate pullout of US troops from the Philippines. (Photo from

The grounding of the USS Guardian on the Tubbataha Reef shows one of the many dangers that increased US military presence in the country brings. Just several months prior to the destruction of a portion of the protected reefs by the 224-foot American minesweeper, which reports peg at about 1,000 square meters, the US Navy was also involved in the dumping of toxic waste in Subic Bay. Worse, the presence of American forces in the country has also meant the death of our people such as the fisherman who was hit by a US military speedboat in Basilan last year. All these incidents happened in a span of less than one year.

To be sure, these are not the first transgressions committed by US soldiers who are in the Philippines through the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). (See box at the end of this article for a summary of some of the human rights atrocities committed by US troops under the VFA.) The rape of Nicole by US Marine Daniel Smith in Subic is still fresh in our collective memory. But what is alarming is the increasing frequency of such transgressions and the impunity that the US forces enjoy. Daniel Smith was acquitted. The family of the Basilan fisherman opted for a settlement with the US military. The US Navy was absolved of any liability in the Subic toxic waste dumping.

In the Tubbataha grounding incident, which dealt the protected reefs its worst damage on record, it is perturbing that our officials seem content in just seeking financial compensation for the damaged reef, worth a paltry $300 per square meter. (If the damage is 1,000 sq. m, that makes us entitled to $300,000 or about ₱12 million. Certainly, a measly sum compared to the importance of Tubbataha as a World Heritage site.) President Benigno Aquino III was also emphatic on the need of the US to pay in accordance with our laws. While imposing financial penalties and demanding an official apology from the US are legitimate demands, their importance should not be overemphasized. They should be treated as a given and should be implemented as a matter of policy. But the Philippines must take a more decisive stance on this issue, one that goes beyond demanding compensation and apology from a supposed friend and partner.

Sadly, no administration official, including Aquino, has raised the need to pursue the criminal liability of the US forces, particularly the USS Guardian commander (identified as Lt. Commander Mark A. Rice) who ignored the warnings of the Tubbataha park rangers and ordered his men to be in “battle position” when local authorities tried to exercise their rightful jurisdiction over the vessel. The special treatment being accorded to the US troops is evident in the decision of the Tubbataha Protected Area Management Board (TPAMB) not to include jail time in the penalties it is seeking for the grounding incident despite clear provisions in the Tubbataha Reefs National Park Act (TRNP) of 2009 or Republic Act (RA) 10067. No administration official has raised the need to at least review the VFA given the circumstances surrounding the suspicious presence of the USS Guardian in the Tubbataha area (worse, the US Navy and US government’s failure or refusal to explain such presence more than 10 days since the incident) and the actions taken by the ship’s officials. On the contrary, defense and military officials assert that regular port visits by US warships and joint military trainings with the American troops under the annual Balikatan exercises will continue, as if the Tubbataha incident did not happen. Aquino himself absolved the VFA, claiming that the ever controversial military deal has “nothing to do with the Americans’ going to Tubbataha” and that the issue is simply “a question of violating certain ecological laws.”

Aquino is wrong. The USS Guardian and numerous other US warships, aircraft and troops have been going in and out of, and around, the country via the VFA. Thus questioning the VFA and raising the political issues, beyond the environmental aspect of the controversy, is crucial in asserting our sovereignty as a nation, which is the crux of the matter in the Tubbataha incident. This becomes more important in the light of the announced pivot to Asia Pacific of US military forces. Concretely, the pivot takes the form of deploying 60% of US’s naval fleet in the region. The US Navy is the world’s largest (its tonnage is said to be greater than that of the next 13 largest navies combined) and includes, among others, 11 aircraft carriers (out of the 21 active carriers worldwide) and 71 submarines. Six out of the 11 US carriers are currently already deployed in the Asia Pacific but the US also plans to deploy more of its most advanced warships and jet fighters in the region as part of the pivot. Certainly, their increased presence in our seas will make us more exposed to incidents like Tubbataha and other abuses even as Defense Sec. Voltaire Gazmin vainly attempts to distance the frequent and unhampered entry of US warships in the country to the grounding incident, swallowing hook, line and sinker the flimsy excuse by the captain of the USS Guardian about a faulty navigation system.

In the Philippines, one of the immediate and obvious effects of the US pivot is the drastic increase in the frequency of so-called “routine port calls” of American warships. In 2012, for instance, a total of at least 10 supposedly regular port visits have been reported in the media, with the US warships docking at mostly at Subic and Manila bays. The port visits involved 12 warships of varying sizes that included the nuclear-powered super carrier USS George Washington (escorted by two other military vessels); four nuclear-powered submarines which included the most technologically advanced in the world – the USS North Carolina, USS Louisville, USS Hawaii and USS Olympia; and a host of guided-missile destroyers, submarine tender and amphibious assault ship. On the other hand, in 2011 there were only three reported port visits involving six ships.

2012 partial list of PH-US bilateral military exercises & “routine port calls” by US military warships


Mar. 3 Port visit in Iloilo of USS Chafee, a guided-missile destroyer, to participate in the US Embassy’s program “showcasing American culture, US businesses & embassy services”
Mar. 5-10 Operation Pacific Angel 2012 – Some 99 US military members (US Air Force), along with members of the PH military, NGOs and LGUs conducted medical, dental, optometry & engineering programs in Legazpi, Albay
Apr. 16-27 28th Balikatan exercises involving 4,500 personnel from the US Pacom & 2,300 AFP personnel conducted command post exercise (which also included about 20 participants from Asean & 15 from other partner nations), multiple field training exercises & engineering, humanitarian & civic assistance projects (also supported by 385 local health professionals); exercises were held in Metro Manila, Tarlac, Pampanga, Nueva Ecija, Palawan, Zamboanga, Jolo & Basilan
May 14 Routine port call in Subic of the USS North Carolina, a Virginia class fast attack submarine, also described as one of the “stealthiest, most technologically advanced” nuclear-powered submarines in the world
Jun. 25-30 Routine port call in Subic of the USS Louisville, a Los Angeles class nuclear-powered attack submarine, to restock & R&R for its crew
Jul. 2-10 18th Cooperation Afloat Readiness & Training (Carat) involving some 500 members of US Navy & Coast Guard & about 450 personnel from the PH Navy & Coast Guard; exercises were held in General Santos City & Saranggani
Aug. 19-20 Routine port call in Manila of the USS Millius, an Arleigh Burke class destroyer
Sep. 3 Routine port call in Subic of the USS Frank Cable, an L.Y. Spear class submarine tender; ship repair, maintenance and training under the PH-US Acquisition Cross Servicing Agreement (Acsa) between sailors of USS Frank Cable & BRP Greogorio del Pilar
Sep. 7 Routine port call in Subic of the USS Hawaii, one of the most advanced nuclear-powered submarines in the world; capable of transporting special operations forces, unmanned undersea vehicles & US Navy Seals
Oct. 4 Routine port call in Subic of the USS Olympia, a Los Angeles class nuclear-powered submarine
Oct. 5 Routine port call in Subic of the USS Bonhomme Richard, a Wasp-class amphibious assault ship, for R&R of its sailors & to offload US Marines from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) who were participating in the Phiblex 13
Oct. 8-18 Amphibious Landing Exercise (Phiblex 13) involving some 2,600 personnel from the US Pacom & over 1,200 from the AFP; exercises, held in Zambales, Palawan, Tarlac, Cavite & Nueva Ecija included staff planning exercise, a static aircraft display, multiple field training exercises & humanitarian & civic assistance projects
Oct. 24-28 Routine port call in Manila the USS George Washington, a nuclear-powered Nimitz class aircraft carrier with about 5,500 personnel; it carries about 80 aircrafts of various purposes, primarily F-18 Hornets, helicopters & E-2 Hawkeye airborne early warning turboprops; it was escorted by two other vessels – the USS Cowpens (a Ticenderoga-class guided missile cruiser) & USS McCampbell (an Arleigh-Burke class destroyer)
Nov. 19 Routine port call in Manila by USS Gridley, an Arleigh-Burke class destroyer & part of the US Pacific Fleet
2011 “routine port calls” & PH-US bilateral military exercises: USS Essex, an amphibious assault ship (Manila, Dec. 1-4); Cooperation Afloat Readiness & Training (Sulu Sea, Palawan; Jun. 28 to Jul. 8); USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier group, which also includes guided-missile destroyers USS Shiloh, USS Bunker Hill & USS Gridley (Manila, May 15-19); 27th Balikatan exercise (Pampanga, Tarlac, Nueva Ecija, Zambales, Palawan, Cavite, Cebu; Apr. 5-15); USS Blue Ridge, command & control ship of the US 7th Fleet (Feb. 13-16)
Data as of Nov. 26, 2012 onlyData culled from the Embassy of the United States, Manila, Philippines, press & photo releases for 2011 & 2012,, and from various online media reports

The table above does not represent an exhaustive list of all the “port visits” by US warships in the Philippines as it merely enumerated what’s reported in the media. A statement attributed to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) claimed that in 2012, US ships made 197 port calls (aside from 444 US aircraft that were cleared to land) in the Philippines. Residents of Olongapo City claim that different US warships dock at Subic Bay almost weekly. When I visited Olongapo during the New Year break, I counted at least five large US ships docked at the bay. The presence of these US military ships was not reported by the media. And I’m pretty sure that many other abuses and transgressions by American troops also went unreported.

Human rights abuses and US troops
The presence of American soldiers in the country has invited grave abuses and violations of Filipinos’ human rights. This has been the case since the US occupation of the country and continued when they still had military bases in Subic and Clark. Under the VFA, attacks on human rights perpetrated by the US troops persist and worse, even covered up by the authorities. These abuses include the mauling of a certain Marcelo Batesil in Cebu City; the shooting of suspected Abu Sayyaf suspect Buyung-Buyong Isnijal in Basilan province; the reported massacre of three Muslim civilians in Barangay Sipangkot, Umapoy Island in Tawi-Tawi and four others in Maimbung, Sulu; and the killing of a certain Arsid Baharon in Barangay San Roque in Zamboanga City.

But the biggest and most controversial case of abuse so far is the rape of Nicole in Subic involving four American Marines in 2005. In December 2006, a local judge convicted one the Marines, Lance Corporal Daniel Smith, of raping Nicole. The Court of Appeals (CA), however, reversed the decision in April 2009. But one month before the CA ruling, Nicole had issued a controversial affidavit which claimed that she “can’t help but entertain doubts on whether the sequence of events in Subic… really occurred”. This affidavit was apparently the result of pressure from the US and Malacañang with the lawyer assisting Nicole in the second affidavit reportedly from the same law firm of Smith’s counsels. While it carries no legal implication, its intention was to influence public opinion so that the CA acquittal of Smith will be easily accepted by the people. Nicole was also reportedly given P100,000 in “moral and exemplary damages” by the camp of Smith aside from a US visa that allowed her to fly to the US “for good”.

US troops staying in the country were again dragged into another controversy in 2010, this time involving the death of an interpreter they hired for an elite unit of US Special Forces called the Liaison Coordination Elements (LCE). Gregan Cardeño was found dead inside a Joint Special Operation Task Force (JSOTF) facility in Camp Ranao in Marawi City on Feb. 2, 2010 after allegedly committing suicide. Less than two months later, Capt. Javier Ignacio of the Philippine Army – a friend of the Cardeños helping to shed light on his death – was shot dead by unidentified gun men. Before his death, Cardeño separately called his sister and wife and told them that his job was “hard and not what he expected”. Ignacio, meanwhile, was killed while on his way to meet human rights groups to execute an affidavit on what he discovered about Cardeño’s death.

Sources: Sworn statement of Nicole, Mar. 12, 2009 (; GMA News Online. “Smith camp’s hand seen in Nicole ‘recantation’ bared”. Mar. 18, 2009 (; The Philippine Star. “’Nicole’ leaves for US, settles for P100,000”. Mar. 18, 2009. Retrieved Mar. 25, 2011; (; Lacorte, Germelina. “Group demands junking RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement over death of Filipino interpreter”. Davao Today. Jul. 15, 2010. Retrieved Mar. 25, 2011 (  

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Global issues, Military & war

“2+2” equals more secret US bases in PH

The 2+2 meeting in Washington could lead to the establishment of more covert US “military bases” in the country such as the bases being maintained by the JSOTF-P (Photo from

The 28th Balikatan exercises ended with the “usual thank yous”, said an Inquirer report. “As the curtain closes down on this year’s Balikatan, I would like to express my gratitude to the American soldiers… who gave their invaluable time to share their experiences…” General Jessie Dellosa, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), said during the closing ceremony.

First of its kind

But the curtain never truly closes for the US troops in the Philippines. Because while the Balikatan has already been concluded, the supposedly visiting American soldiers will not leave. About 600 of them – perhaps even more – will continue to stay in the country as part of the Joint Special Operations Task Force – Philippines (JSOTF-P), established under the 1999 PH-US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).

And when the so-called 2+2 meeting on April 30 is over, we could be seeing more US troops – maybe thousands – deployed, on so-called “rotational” basis, on our shores soon. The 2+2 meeting, which will be held in Washington, is described as “the first of its kind” in Philippine-US relations. To underscore its significance for the country, the Department of National Defense (DND) said that the US has had similar meetings only with Japan and South Korea, America’s most reliable allies in East Asia.

And while the meeting that will be attended by DND Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Sec. Albert del Rosario, US Defense Sec. Leon Panetta and State Sec. Hillary Clinton will also discuss economic and political cooperation, what everyone is anticipating are details of how Manila and Washington will strengthen military relations.

Chinese assertiveness

The military aspect of the upcoming talks has generated increased public interest due to the ongoing Scarborough Shoal standoff between the Philippines and China. Filipino and American officials, abetted by the local mainstream media, have used the perceived Chinese bullying to highlight the supposed potential benefits for the Philippines of deepened military relations with the US.

China’s assertive stance in its dispute with the country over the Scarborough Shoal and the Spratly Islands is being used to justify increased US military presence and intervention in the Philippines and in the region. While this serves US’s agenda in Asia Pacific, it also raises further risks to peace and development in the region and to the national sovereignty of the Philippines. (Read more on this here)

Sustaining global presence

Meanwhile, one of the expected results of the 2+2 meeting is the conduct of more frequent and bigger joint military exercises and the deployment of more US troops here like those under the JSOFT-P. This is consistent with the latest defense strategy of the Obama administration. As I have written in a previous post:

Updating existing military alliances and forging new ones, however, have to be pursued in the midst of the harsh economic realities facing the US. Amid its raging public debt crisis that has been caused in part by costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Obama administration released this month its latest defense strategy document Sustaining US global leadership: Priorities for 21st century defense. The document was the result of “an assessment of US defense strategy in the light of the changing geopolitical environment and changing fiscal circumstances”.

Consequently, the latest US defense strategy calls for developing “innovative, low-cost and small-footprint approaches” to achieve US security objectives, relying on bilateral and multilateral training exercises, rotational deployments and advisory capabilities. This will allow US forces to “conduct a sustainable pace of presence operations abroad” and at the same time let it commit to a large-scale operation in one region while still having the capability to impose “unacceptable costs” on an aggressor in a second region.

New types of bases

To house the additional troops, the 2+2 meeting could lead to the establishment of more covert US “military bases” in the country such as Forward Operating Sites (FOSs) and Cooperative Security Locations (CSLs). These types of bases are much smaller than traditional US foreign military bases.

The US Overseas Basing Commission, the official body tasked to review US military basing in other countries, describes FOSs as “expandable ‘warm facilities’ maintained with a limited US military support presence and possibly prepositioned equipment; it supports rotational rather than permanently stationed forces and be a focus for bilateral and regional training.” CSLs, on the other hand, are “facilities with little or no permanent US presence. Instead they will be maintained with periodic service, contractor, or host-nation support. CSLs will provide contingency access and be a focal point for security cooperation activities.” For US strategic planners, the expansion of FOSs and CSLs in key locations worldwide “adds to operational flexibility, preserves a presence abroad, and serves to strengthen alliance relationships.”

Essential for US operations

In the Philippines, the headquarters of the JSOTF-P inside Camp Navarro in Zamboanga City where it has based since 2002 is considered an example of an FOS or sometimes referred to as forward operating base (FOB) in some US military papers. Read, for instance, a 2004 monograph on Army special operations forces, which used Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF-P) in Mindanao as a case study. The OEF-P was pushed by then President George W. Bush supposedly to combat the Abu Sayyaf and covers Mindanao as its area of operation (AO).

As narrated in the monograph, the Joint Task Force (JTF)-510 – JSOTF-P’s predecessor – “set up an FOB on the southern tip of the Mindanao Island near Zamboanga City”, specifically the Edwin Andrews Air Base (EAAB) because “basing was essential for OEF-P”. It also described the role of an FOB in US military operations: “The FOB at EAAB was the logistical hub within the AO for all operations. All US forces flowed in the FOB before conducting operations… From Okinawa, all assets and personnel flew into the JTF’s AO via the FOB at EABB on Mindanao. FOB EAAB served as a transloading point, logistical hub for the forces on Mindanao and Basilan, and housed air assets.”

Covert bases

The location of these bases is not willingly disclosed to the public by authorities in an effort not to attract too much attention to the presence of US troops as well as to undercut criticisms against US military basing in the Philippines which is a violation of the Constitution. Even so, US military documents such as the monograph cited earlier would confirm the existence of US bases in the Philippines.

Another such document is the 2005 report of the US Overseas Basing Commission, which disclosed that: “A series of CSLs are being developed in India, Thailand, Philippines, and Australia that will be able to provide logistics arrangements for support throughout the region. Many of these will simply be fueling arrangements and perhaps some pre-positioned stocks.” The Philippine government, however, has not confirmed the existence of these CSLs, much less disclose their locations.

But in an August 2009 affidavit, former Philippine Navy Lt. Sr. Grade Nancy Gadian revealed that since 2002, the US has established “permanent and continuous presence” in southern Mindanao as she identified possible CSLs in Zamboanga City, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi. The table below summarizes her testimony describing the location and features of US presence/basing in Mindanao.

It was also Gadian who exposed the anomalous use of P46 million in Balikatan funds by high ranking AFP officials. She was the officer in charge of the Civil Military Operations (CMO) Fusion Cell for Balikatan 2007. In 2001, Gadian was one of the planners of the Balikatan 2002 (held in Pampanga) and of Balikatan 2002-1 (held in Mindanao).

Violates sovereignty

Aside from those identified by Gadian, another possible CSL is located inside Camp Ranao in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur which was unknown to the public until the reported death of Gregan Cardeño, an interpreter hired by the Americans for an elite unit of US Special Forces called the Liaison Coordination Elements (LCE). Cardeño died on Feb. 2, 2010 under dubious circumstances, telling relatives before his death that his job “was hard and not what he expected”. Less than two months later, Capt. Javier Ignacio of the Philippine Army – a friend of the Cardeños helping to shed light on his death – was shot dead by still  unidentified gun men.

Certainly, there are many other military facilities set up and being used by US troops in the Philippines, including in Luzon and Visayas, which the public does not know. But their number could further increase as Philippine-US military relations further deepen in the coming years. This blatantly violates Philippine sovereignty and an infringement of the Constitution which does not allow the basing of foreign troops in the country.

Consequently, more atrocities involving American soldiers such as the case of Cardeño could arise. Just recently, another Filipino died – fisherman Ahbam Juhurin – in what was a supposedly “sea mishap” involving US troops conducting “routine maritime activity” in Basilan. While some may argue that this latest incident was just an accident, Juhurin’s death still raises a fundamental question – why do we allow US troops to base in our country and patrol our seas, lands, and air? (end)