When Sovereignty Is At Stake!
By Erick San Juan
A couple of days ago, a news item came out that “Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago said that the decision of the United States government to keep an elite 600-soldier counterinsurgency group in the Philippines could indicate an unsuccessful anti-Muslim insurgency campaign. But the (rebel movements are still there) and they seem to be strong and vibrant. So the question is whether they succeeded or not.” (Philippine Star, 082309)
Good question, Sen. Miriam but why the US troops are here in the first place when the 1987 Constitution “does not allow foreign military bases, troops or facilities here except under a treaty duly concurred in by the Senate and, when the Congress so requires, ratified by a majority of the votes cast by the people in a national referendum held for that purpose, and recognized as a treaty by the other contracting State.”
In 1999 the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) was ratified and signed by former President Joseph Estrada who was anti-US bases then but signed the agreement anyway for “security” reason and made sure that our country’s sovereignty will not be trampled upon by the other country. After that, in 2002 RP-US military exercises began, dubbed as Balikatan. The Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P) has set up its HQ at Camp Navarro in Zamboanga City and conducted continuous military exercises since then.
As Sen. Santiago said, there was no overt violation of the VFA between the US and the Philippines. But could there be covert operations? As was reported by the Citizens’ Peace Watch (alliance of more than twenty groups) early last year when they tried to visit Camp Navarro in Zamboanga City (and was sent away) which they described as “The US military base stands out and is sealed from the rest of Camp Navarro by walls, concertina wire, and sandbags. The actual size of the area it occupies could not immediately be established from the outside. But communication facilities such as satellite dishes, antenna, and other instruments are visible.” The group asked, “What are they hiding?”
Another comment from Sen. Santiago that should not be taken lightly, “We invited them for cooperation but they should not engage in combat operations because it will diminish our sovereignty. There might also be a culture of military dependency on foreign powers already”.
Yes there is, Madam Senator, the JSOTF-P headquartered at Camp Navarro is what they call Cooperative Security Location or CSL and it looks like they are here to stay as what the US and our government said in support for the retention of the US troops in Mindanao. As what Executive Secretary and Anti-Terrorism Council Chairman Eduardo Ermita said that the presence of the JSOTF-P “enhance our security in the area and help pave the way for development.”
What is CSL? A Cooperative Security Location is a host-nation facility with little or no permanent US presence. CSLs will require periodic service, contractor and/or host nation support. CSLs provide contingency access and are a focal point for security cooperation activities. They may contain propositioned equipment. CSLs are: rapidly scalable and located for tactical use, expandable to become a FOS, forward and expeditionary. They will have no family support system. (From globalsecurity.org)
The fact that President Arroyo was assigned as the “coordinator” in this part of the region by US President Obama, there’s no point of discontinuing the military operations through the CSL. But what must be cleared now that they are using that large part of our country, especially the Mindanao region, as strategic location for what they call “war on terrorism” in Southeast Asia , our government must define the US government’s commitment to us as partner in this so-called “war”.
The US is not our enemy, and proven historically as very vital ally in terms of defending our democracy and sovereignty in times that we need their support. Although as a sovereign nation, we must remind them that they should be truthful in dealing with our government and be given what is due us, as a “loyal friend”.