Turning the Philippines into Another Afghanistan

01 February 2002
Brid Brennan

Turning the Philippines into Another Afghanistan
Brid Brennan
ASEM Watch 72, February 2002

Porto Alegre - The new deployment of 600 US Special Forces operatives in the Philippines on January 30th, marks a dangerous escalation of US intervention in the affairs of Third World countries. Another 6,000 are expected to be deployed by May of this year. This deployment of US troops in combat operations violates the Philippine Constitution and breaks the terms of the Visiting Forces Agreement signed between the Philippines and the US in 1998.

Justified as the next step in the so-called "war against terror", the deployment in Mindanao, Southern Philippines is in large part an opportunistic move to reintroduce a significant US military presence in a country from which the American bases were expelled 10 years ago. According to Akbayan Congresswoman Etta Rosales, Chairperson of the Congress Committee on Civil, Political and Human Rights, speaking today at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, "this latest US intervention destabilises a region of the world with large Muslim populations - in the Philippines itself as well as in neighboring Malaysia and Indonesia. Furthermore the presence of US aircraft carriers, likely armed with nuclear weapons, will impact on the ASEAN region as a whole, which has been established as a nuclear free zone".

Under the pretext of training Filipino soldiers, US troops are entering a war zone marked by an ongoing conflict between the Philippine Army and the separatist armed Muslim group Abu Sayyaf. They are being inserted into a situation of protracted religious and communual conflict which can only be worsened by the presence of foreign troops.

John Cavanagh, Director of the US based Institute for Policy Studies, pointed out in an interview that the "US press is skeptical of Washington´s claim that the Abu Sayyaf, a separatist Muslim armed group, is actively linked to Osama bin Laden's Al Qaida. Whatever may be the state of their relationship, this latest US intervention will further militarise a highly sensitive situation".

Speaking at the World Social Forum, Walden Bello, an internationally recognised Filipino scholar, said "This is the tip of the iceberg. The people of the Philippines are bracing for a reign of flame from the skies, as US precision guided missiles and other bombs and explosives are activated in Basilan and other areas of sustpected Abu Sayyaf strongholds. The Abu Sayyaf have a strong mass base, and therefore this will become a war of counter-insurgency impacting and involving large civilian populations".

Preparations for this entry of US troops preceded by several years the current anti-terrorist campaign, the most significant step being the ratification of the US-Philippine Visiting Forces Agreement in 1998. Ever since the Philippine Senate refused to extend the US Military Bases Agreement in 1991, the US has been persistently engaging the Philippine government in seeking new options for the re-introduction of bases. A recently revealed "Draft Arrangement" explicity provides for basing of US troops and for their involvement in combat operations".

Commenting on this, Millet Gobrin-Morante, Secretary General of KPD, a member organisation of the recently formed national coalition Gathering for Peace, "we feel the Philippines is not our country anymore". Widespread oposition to this blatant violation of the Philippine Constitution is growing, and includes Vice President Guingona, the Congress Committee Chairs of Foreign Affairs, Muslim Affairs and Civil, Political and Human Rights as well as former Senators Salonga and Tanada.

Although the current deployment of US troops is being portrayed by Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, as a temporary stint of duty for six months to 1 year, commentators point out that a US base is being built in Sarangani in Cotabato province in Southern Philippines. Sarangani Bay, provides excellent deep water features, comparable if not better than Subic Bay, the former US base on Luzon island. Besides basing in Sarangani, provides further advantage to the US in re-asserting its control in a region of great geo-political and strategic importance in terms of the sea lanes in the China sea and the Asia-Pacific as a whole.

Francesco Martone, a Senator of the Green Party in the Italian Senate, called this new deployment of US troops "the first enlargement of the war against terror". He was among several hundreds of signatories of an International petition urging the US government to respect the sovereignty of the Republic of the Philippines and demanding the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of US troops from Philipine territory. This latest US intervention will only turn the Philippines into another Afghanistan and undermine any possibilities of addressing the roots of terrorism in poverty, injustice, religious dicrimination and ethnic and cultural oppression.