PHILIPPINES “Virtual US basing” in the Philippines
Presence of US structures and death of troops in the south Philippines seen as evidence
Manila: The death of 17 American soldiers, including four non-hostile incidents, from 2002 to 2009 and the existence of moveable and permanent facilities established by the US since it began its war-games with Filipinos soldiers, were seen as proofs of ‘virtual US basing’ in the southern Philippines, sources said.
Bayan Secretary General Renato Reyes alleged that the US has ‘virtual basing’ in the southern Philippines, adding his group will question this before the Supreme Court.
The Inquirer, a daily broadsheet, reported that Celso Bayabos, former director of the (now defunct) Air Transportation Office in Zamboanga once complained in 2008 that the US widened their structures based inside the Zamboanga airport..
At the time, however, former defence Secretary Gilbert Teodoro told the Inquirer that the Philippine government allowed the widening of the US structures at the said airport.
The US has also set up moveable and easy to remove facilities in the southern Philippines. Those that could not be removed would be given to the Philippine government, Teodoro explained.
The Visiting Forces Agreement between the US and the Philippines, which was ratified by the Philippine Senate in 1998 (and signalled the start of joint US-Philippine war games) and the 1951 US-Philippines Mutual Defence Treaty have provisions about continuous US presence in the country, Teodoro said.
It was in response to Edgar Araojo, a political science professor at Western Mindanao State University who complained that the Philippine government had surrendered its sovereignty to the US by allowing continuous American presence in the southern Philippines.
There were unconfirmed reports that US forces have entered the war zones of Philippine government soldiers and the Abu Sayyaf Group in the south. This is not allowed, said Teodoro, but the Presidential Commission on the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFACom) has denied these reports.
Meanwhile, the US Defence Department has also confirmed the death of 13 American soldiers in hostile incidents in the southern Philippines.
Eight American crew and two soldiers died when MH-47 Chinook helicopter crashed while flying in tandem with another US Army Chinook helicopter, into the Bohol Strait in central Philippines on February 21, 2002. Only three bodies were found, seven of the casualties remained missing.
The 10 servicemen were part of 600 American soldiers involved in six-month long joint-war games of the US and the Philippine Armed forces.
The helicopter came from Basilan and was on its way to Mactan in central Philippines, where the US has a logistics air base, according to various reports.
Sgt 1st class Mark Wayne Jackson formerly of Fort Lewis in Washington, died (together with two Filipinos) in a bomb explosion that occurred outside an open air restaurant outside the gate of Camp Enrile in Malagutay, Zamboanga on October 2, 2002.
The bomb came from a man who parked his motorcycle near the restaurant. It was two miles west of Camp Navarro where most US troops engaged in war games with Filipino soldiers, stayed. Jackson was with US Special Operations unit that held joint war games with Philippine soldiers in the south.
Two American soldiers, Sgt. 1st Class Christopher D. Shaw, 37, of Markham, Ill, and Staff Sgt. Jack M. Martin III, 26, of Bethany, Oklahoma were killed when their vehicles struck an improvised explosive device at Indanan town, Jolo, at eight in the morning of September 29, 2009.
They were with Special Forces Operators that supervised the building of two schools and wells in Indanan. They were originally assigned at Fort Lewis, Washington. A Philippine marine was also killed in the incident.
Four other American soldiers died in non-hostile incidents, two in the south and two in Manila, the US Defence Department said.
Staff Sgt Robert McGee, 38, died of injuries in Manila on June 30, 2004. Spc. Scott J. Mullen, 22, died of injuries in Metro Manila’s Makati City on October 14, 2005. Cpl. Timothy D. Lewis, 20, suffered a heat stroke and died from cardiac arrest in Jolo on Feb. 15, 2007. Staff Sgt, Joseph Curreri, 27, died from drowning at Lake Seit, Panamo town, Sulu Province on October 27, 2007. Many of them were formerly assigned at Fort Lewis in Washington.
The US-Philippine war games started after the Philippine Senate ratified the US-Philippines Visiting Forces Agreement 1998
The agreement has served the US in its war against terrorists following the death of 3,000 after four hijacked commercial plane crashed in New York’s World Trade Centre, at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virigina, and at an open space in Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001.
It has also served the Philippines which has been depending on US intelligence assistance to defeat the Abu Sayyaf Group in the southern Philippines.
The Al Qaida network was blamed for the terror attacks in the US and in the establishment of the Abu Sayyaf Group in the southern Philippines in the 90s.
In 1991, the Philippine Senate rejected the US-proposed extension of now defunct Philippine-US Military Bases Agreement which was the basis of US presence in the country since after the end of Spanish colonial rule in 1898.b This ended the presence of two of US’s largest overseas war facilities in central Luzon.