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Visiting forces, not anymore!

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Come February this year 2011 will mark the 13th year since the signing of the Visiting Forces Agreement by the representatives of Washington and Manila as an Executive Agreement. After more than a year, in May 1999, the Philippine Senate passed the VFA as a treaty (even though the US Congress never recognized this as a treaty).

Looking back to more than a decade of this “treaty”, and now we are entering a new decade in the midst of the so-called review, our military is still one of the weakest militaries in this part of the world. What has transpired in the past twelve years or so clearly showed nothing significantly beneficial to us, especially to our armed forces. And worst, a lot of negative feedback were written and reported by our fellowmen as well as foreign writers.

A certain report that came out in the local papers just recently (and posted online) was from the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines (NUJP) wherein a Zamboanga City-based journalist experienced the arrogance from the “visiting American troops”.

As what reported by the NUJP director Julie Alipala, who is based in Zamboanga, quoted a local television reporter as saying that one of the six American soldiers guarding the task force headquarters told the news crew: “I am ordering you not to take footages.” When one of the reporters asked what the basis for the order was, the American replied: “I don’t understand you, but don’t make me take your camera.”

Sought for clarification, Westmincom spokesman Lt. Col. Randolph Cabangbang clarified the American soldier’s actions, saying that the journalists were in a secure facility “and persons going there need clearance” to shoot video and other images.

But as reported by Alipala, the news crew was taking footage outside the task force headquarters.

Even granting Cabangbang’s explanation is appropriate, we maintain that foreigners still have absolutely no authority to tell us Filipinos what we can or cannot do in our own country, much less threaten to confiscate our property. If they had any issue, they should have conveyed it to their local counterparts who could then have relayed the matter to the journalists concerned.

As far as we are concerned, the task force headquarters is not sovereign American territory; it is Philippine territory that the visiting foreign troops are just allowed to use as part of a defense agreement.

The said reported incident only justify what we kept on saying and have written that the US troops are here to stay. And, that we don’t have visiting forces anymore. The visit became permanent, meaning, the VFA, despite the growing clamor for its termination, “legalizes” the so-called mobile and flexible forward operating bases here. These bases are not limited to training and capacity building. They go further by allegedly providing “logistical and intelligence support.” This term is so broad that under US interpretation, it allows actual immersion in combat operations.

“There is high probability as well as existing accounts that the US forces are engaged in combat operations. The US Institute for Peace, a US government funded institution, described the role of the US forces deployed in Mindanao in its February 2008 report. The deployment of US forces in Mindanao was not for humanitarian missions or civic actions, but for specific military objectives”. (Robert D. Kaplan, “Imperial Grunts,” Atlantic Monthly, October 2008, available online)

With the unending war in the south, may it be against the secessionists and/or the bandits, and the growing tension between the US and China via the Korean Peninsula, this country’s leadership has given up our armed forces in the hands of Uncle Sam through the VFA. Statements from the people of the VFA commission had clearly stated that to do away with the VFA is too radical (translation – VFA will stay and so are the American troops). Even its review will be far-fetched based from President Noy’s statement that the VFA has its benefits.

Again, we are not against the Americans but important things had to be clarified and “real benefits” should be given to us. The glaring reality is here, whether we like it or not - because this VFA could make our country the GROUND ZERO of the looming US-China War. God forbid!

By Erick San Juan




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