The United States in the Philippines


R. Shalom


Within days after the
first U.S. bombs fell on Afghanistan, Washington revealed another site for its
“war against terrorism”: the Philippines. U.S. military personnel were to be
sent to that southeast Asian nation to aid in the fight against Abu Sayyaf, a
small group of Islamic extremists that U.S. officials linked to al-Qaeda.

A few U.S.
soldiers soon began arriving, but the scale of U.S. involvement did not become
evident until January 2002. That month the Pentagon announced that the operation
would involve more than 600 U.S. troops, including 160 special forces, who would
go to the southern Philippines to train and advise the Philippine army in its
efforts to wipe out Abu Sayyaf. This was, noted Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, “not
a modest number” of troops. Indeed, the New York Times (1/16) called it
“the largest single deployment of American military might outside
Afghanistan to fight terrorists since the Sept. 11 attacks.” The U.S. officer in
charge of the mission was further indication of its importance: Brig. Gen.
Donald C. Wurster of the Air Force, the head of all Special Operations forces in
the Pacific.

“Military
training” and “military advisers” might suggest images of U.S. soldiers
providing classroom instruction to Philippine troops or U.S. officers meeting
with their Philippine counterparts in headquarters in Manila to discuss fine
points of strategy and tactics. But this training and advising is going to be
done on the ground, in combat areas of the southern Philippines. Armed U.S.
advisers, with authority to fire in self-defense, will be accompanying
Philippine troops in the field as they go after Abu Sayyaf.

Based mainly on
Basilan and Jolo, small islands in the southern Philippines, the Abu Sayyaf
Group (ASG) has an appalling record of bombings, killings, and kidnappings for
ransom. In March 2000 it kidnapped some 50 Filipinos, mostly schoolchildren; in
May 2000, two dozen people were seized from a neighboring Malaysian resort, and
in May 2001, 20 tourists were kidnapped from a Philippine resort. Some of the
hostages were killed; most were released after large ransom payments. One
American was killed and two others—a missionary couple—remain in captivity along
with a Filipina nurse.

 


International Connections


Clearly Abu Sayyaf is an
unsavory outfit. But what about its current connections to al-Qaeda? Immediately
after September 11, some Philippine officials pointed to ties between ASG and
al-Qaeda. Chief of staff General Diomedio Villanueva declared that Abu Sayyaf
could not have survived without continuing support from al-Qaeda. “He said the
recent spate of kidnappings by the Abu Sayyaf guerrillas was part of the
fingerprints of the al Qaeda organisation of Osama which will not stop at
anything” (Channel NewsAsia [CNA], 9/28). Of course, kidnappings for ransom had
no similarity whatsoever to al-Qaeda operations, but it is easy to understand
Villanueva’s eagerness to suggest an al-Qaeda link. Filipinos had been extremely
critical of the failure of their armed forces to deal with Abu Sayyaf, and there
were credible stories of military officers letting Abu Sayyaf guerrillas escape,
perhaps as a result of payoffs. Another motive for detecting an al-Qaeda
connection was indicated in a story in the Toronto Star (11/3): “…the
Philippines also has a clear agenda of its own – to win U.S. approval for an
ambitious shopping list of military equipment long coveted by the army.


“That may explain
the flurry of hints from police offering tantalizing connections between Abu
Sayyaf and Al Qaeda, which have sent the local media into a frenzy. But in
recent days, there has been furious backtracking by senior government officials,
who now acknowledge there is no solid evidence of any continuing links between
Abu Sayyaf and Afghanistan.”

In late October,
Philippine presidential spokesperson Rigoberto Tiglao expressed his frustration
at claims that Abu Sayyaf was at present part of an active al-Qaeda network in
the Philippines. “Of course there are historical ties, but our investigations
have yielded no signs that these international terrorists are at work here” (Christian
Science Monitor
, 10/26). A week later, Philippine national security adviser
Roilo Golez stated that “We have no evidence that Abu Sayyaf has gotten
financing from bin Laden recently. Otherwise, they would not have had to resort
to kidnapping” (NYT, 11/4).

On November 20,
Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo spoke at a press conference in
Washington, DC:

“QUESTION: Is
there any intelligence evidence that Al Qaeda elements in your country are
helping the Abu Sayyaf movement at this point?


“MACAPAGAL-ARROYO: Well, there’s evidence of connection between them and the Abu
Sayyaf up to 1995. In fact, in 1995, our police officers were able to arrest
some link—some people who were linked to both and uncovered documentary evidence
which in fact led to the conviction of the first [1993] bombers of the World
Trade Center.

“QUESTION: Any
current evidence though?


“MACAPAGAL-ARROYO: Well, after 1995—or after that arrest, after the testimony
that our policemen gave, the [inaudible] organizations that we know of, Al
Qaeda, left the Philippines. I think they found the Philippines not hospitable
for international terrorists.”

Regardless of the
level of Philippine hospitality, the crucial event took place in 1998, when the
founder of Abu Sayyaf, Abdurajak Janjalani, was killed in a firefight with the
military. Possibly a veteran of the anti-Soviet holy war in Afghanistan
organized by the United States and Pakistan, Janjalani had studied in Saudi
Arabia and Libya and was a committed Islamic ideologue. Upon his death, his
brother, Khadafy Janjalani, took over Abu Sayyaf and turned it into a mercenary
organization. These are, observed Philippine Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes,
“businessman terrorists. They’re doing it for money” (CNA, 10/12). Most experts
agree. Marites Vitug, co-author of a book on Philippine Muslim rebels, says,
“The former leader had some ideological moorings. Now Abu Sayyef are just
criminals” (Age, 5/6/00). Frank J. Cilluffo, a Senior Policy Analyst with
the conservative Center for Strategic & International Studies, testified in
April 2001 that when Abu Sayyaf kidnapped a group of foreigners, they included
demands for an independent Muslim state and the release of terrorists connected
to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, from U.S. prisons. “But at the end of
the day they ‘settled’ for $1 million per hostage.”


It is useful to
look at what U.S. officials had to say about Abu Sayyaf before September 11. On
June 12, 2001, the State Department’s deputy spokesperson, Phillip T. Reeker,
was asked about the international connections of Abu Sayyaf. Reeker referred the
questioner to the Department’s Patterns of Global Terrorism report, and
then quoted an extract mentioning nothing about international connections. A
follow-up query inquired if there was “a bin Laden connection to this group?”
Reeker again directed the questioner to the Patterns of Global Terrorism
report.

Turning to the
April 2001 report, one finds very little detail. “Some ASG members have studied
or worked in the Middle East and developed ties to mujahidin while fighting and
training in Afghanistan.” And “Probably receives support from Islamic extremists
in the Middle East and South Asia.” That’s it.

Mark Landler of
the New York Times (11/4), interviewed “local government officials,
Muslim leaders, scholars and aid workers” in the Philippines who indicated that
any links to al-Qaeda “are tenuous.” USA Today reported on January 17
that “Terrorism experts, including those who support Bush’s decision to target
the Philippines, say Abu Sayyaf’s connections to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda
are questionable.” The article quoted Derek Mitchell, a former Clinton
administration Pentagon official, now at the Center for Strategic and
International Studies: “I’m not sure anyone really knows for sure or has proof
of deep ties.” Indira A.R. Lakshmanan of the Boston Globe (1/26) reported
that “Interviews with senior Philippine military, intelligence, and political
officials and internal intelligence memos suggest that Abu Sayyaf’s purported
links to Osama bin Laden or other sources of international funding and training
are obsolete or tenuous, at best.” She quotes from an intelligence memo prepared
after September 11, indicating that following the death of Abdurajak Janjalani
in December 1998, Abu Sayyaf “veered from its ideological orientation and
degenerated into a criminal group and engaged in extortion, kidnap-for-ransom,
and robbery.”

If this seems
like rather thin evidence on which to posit an on-going al-Qaeda connection,
reports of Abu Sayyaf numbers are also questionable. Many refer to 2,000 ASG
guerrillas, not noticing that this figure reflects outdated information. On
January 15, Philippine ambassador Albert del Rosario stated on National Public
Radio that “their numbers in terms of their core group we believe has been
reduced within the last few months from over 1,200 to less than 100.” Lt. Gen.
Roy Cimatu, the armed forces commander in the southern Philippines, puts the
number of armed Abu Sayyaf at about 80 (NYT, 12/30)—or about one for
every million Filipinos.

But even if
current al-Qaeda links are dubious and the numbers nearly negligible, one might
still ask what’s wrong with the United States sending military advisers to help
deal with an undoubtedly brutal gang, even if it is, in President
Macapagal-Arroyo’s words (USA Today, 1/17), “a money-crazed gang of
criminals without any ideology.”

There are many
reasons for objecting to the U.S. deployment.

 

The
“Disagreeable Side”


First, there is the matter
of harm to innocent civilians in Basilan and Jolo. Even without U.S.
participation, military operations against Abu Sayyaf have been disastrous for
the local population. With U.S. participation, the situation will likely be even
worse.

In September and
October 2000, the Philippine Armed Forces (AFP) launched an all-out offensive
against Abu Sayyaf on the island of Jolo. Amnesty International reported that
“At least 80,000 civilians were reported to have fled their homes to escape
armed clashes and bombardments, often apparently indiscriminate. Although
difficult to corroborate, there were persistent reports of human rights
violations by the military, including extrajudicial executions, arbitrary
arrests and ‘disappearances’ of suspected Abu Sayyaf members.”

These reports
were difficult to corroborate, said Amnesty, “because the armed forces control
access to affected areas and all telephone lines, including mobile networks,
have been cut.” Amnesty called for the immediate halt of indiscriminate bombing
of the civilian population: “No security crisis can justify a military offensive
which involves the killing of civilians.”

But wouldn’t U.S.
participation minimize the risk to civilians? The historical record in this
regard is not very reassuring. A century ago, the United States fought a bloody
war to colonize the Philippines. Most of the country was pacified by 1902, but
fighting continued in the Muslim areas of the south. Good old American know-how
lent a hand, as the Colt .45 was developed especially for repulsing charges by
“fanatic Muslim warriors.” In 1906, U.S. forces under the command of General
Leonard Wood carried out a major massacre, killing some 600 men, women, and
children at Bud Dajo on the island of Jolo. Wood confided to President Teddy
Roosevelt: “Work of this kind has its disagreeable side, which is the
unavoidable killing of women and children. But it must be done, and disagreeable
as it is, there is no avoiding it” (quoted by Andrew J. Bacevich, Los Angeles
Times
, 1/22).


One doesn’t have
to go into the history books to see that U.S. officials are not reluctant to
order the killing of civilians, especially when the lives of U.S. soldiers are
at stake. Thus, in Somalia in 1993 U.S. forces slaughtered several thousand
Somalis when a Black Hawk helicopter went down. In Afghanistan, as Marc Herold
has documented, thousands of Afghan civilians have been victims of U.S. bombs,
as Pentagon officials have cavalierly dismissed the eyewitness reports of
journalists and human rights groups as unworthy of attention.

Note that in
these examples, the dead civilians were people that Washington was allegedly
trying to help—victims of Somali warlords or the Taliban. There is no reason to
expect U.S. officials to be any more solicitous of the lives of Philippine
civilians, particularly if U.S. “advisers” come under fire or, even worse, are
captured by Abu Sayyaf. One can assume the same care will be taken to avoid harm
to the Muslim population of Basilan, Jolo, or Mindanao as was taken, for
example, in the Afghan village of Kama Ado, where Robert Lloyd Parry of the
London Independent (12/4) saw 40 fresh graves and the clearly marked
remains of a U.S. bomb in a friendly village that the Pentagon continually
insisted that it hadn’t hit.

 


Bearing the Sword


Abu Sayyaf means “bearer
of the sword”—but the second reason to oppose the deployment of U.S. special
forces is that it will make the sword the preferred response to Muslim
grievances.

Muslims make up
about 7 percent of the Philippine population (the exact figure is contested) and
they are concentrated in the south of the country. (Islam was spreading in the
Philippines when Spain established its colonial rule in the 16th century; the
Spanish were able to check the growth of Islam and convert most of the
population to Catholicism, but they were never able to subjugate the Muslims,
whom they called Moros.) Muslim lands and customs were increasingly encroached
upon after Philippine independence in 1946. In parts of the northern and central
islands of the archipelago, population density was exceedingly high and many
peasants were tenant farmers.

Large numbers of
Christian Filipinos moved to the south, where they were able to use
Christian-controlled laws, courts, and police to grab land from Muslims. The
government promoted resettlement efforts as a way to reduce revolutionary
sentiments among the peasantry—much as the frontier in the United States
provided a safety valve for social pressures in eastern cities. After a while
Christians became the majority in most southern provinces. Today, only 5 of the
country’s 73 provinces has a Muslim majority, as does only 1 city out of 61. The
majority Muslim areas are among the poorest in the country—with the worst
socio-economic conditions—in a country where the gap between rich and poor is
immense.

After Ferdinand
Marcos declared martial law in 1972, a full-scale Muslim revolt broke out, led
by the Moro National Liberation Front, MNLF—the word “Moro” adopted as a term of
pride. Marcos, with U.S. military aid, responded ruthlessly, but Muslim nations
(with their new found oil influence) applied pressure and mediated a settlement.
In 1976 Marcos and the MNLF signed the Tripoli Agreement which provided for some
degree of autonomy for Philippine Muslims. Marcos, however, never carried out
his end of the agreement, and fighting resumed, though at a lower level.

In 1984, the Moro
Islamic Liberation Front, MILF, split off from the MNLF. Where the MNLF was a
largely secular organization—indeed, it included Christians among its ranks—the
MILF was avowedly Islamic. The two groups also tended to draw their membership
from different ethnic groups. The MNLF has had official observer status at the
Organization of the Islamic Conference (representing the world’s Muslim
countries) since 1977; the MILF failed to receive such status in 2000. In 1991,
Abdurajak Janjalani founded Abu Sayyaf, much smaller than the other two groups,
and originally committed to achieving Muslim independence through holy war, but,
as noted above, after Janjalani’s death in 1998, committed more to banditry and
kidnapping. Abu Sayyaf’s actions have been condemned by both the MNLF and the
MILF.

In 1987, after
the fall of Marcos, the MNLF agreed to seek autonomy, rather than independence,
for Muslim regions. Implementing autonomy was no simple matter, however, and
talks and sporadic fighting continued. Finally, in 1996, the Ramos
administration and the MNLF signed a peace agreement providing for an Autonomous
Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM)—with provinces and cities entitled to decide by
referendum whether they wished to be a part of it. Currently, the ARMM consists
of the five Muslim-majority provinces and Muslim-majority Marawi City. The
MNLF’s long-time leader, Nur Misuari, was made governor of the ARMM, but in
November 2001, amid charges of corruption, he was defeated in elections and he
apparently led an uprising of some of his followers in response. He is currently
in prison awaiting trial for rebellion.


The MILF rejected
the 1996 agreement, insisting on Muslim independence. Desultory talks with the
government took place, but in 2000, the Administration of Joseph Estrada
launched an all-out war against them. The Philippine government reported that
477 civilians died as a result of the AFP-MILF fighting and that nearly 750,000
persons had been displaced; NGO’s put the figure of those displaced at closer to
1 million. According to Amnesty International, there were reports of
“indiscriminate aerial and artillery bombardment of civilian areas suspected of
containing MILF forces, and of extrajudicial executions, ‘disappearances’ and
torture of those thought to have links to the MILF.” Anti-Muslim animus was
clearly evident. In June 2000, according to the U.S. State Department,
“following persistent reports that troops operating against Muslim separatists
in Mindanao had desecrated mosques, the Secretary of National Defense ordered
the AFP to refrain from such action.” In July 2000, President Estrada celebrated
an AFP military victory by holding a pork and beer feast at the former MILF
headquarters, in defiance of Muslim dietary restrictions.

In January 2001,
Estrada was replaced as president by his vice-president, Gloria
Macapagal-Arroyo. A cease-fire was signed between the government and the MILF
and talks have been proceeding. Though officially committed to independence, the
MILF seems to be willing to accept some form of genuine autonomy. The situation
is very delicate, and it is into this volatile state of affairs that
Macapagal-Arroyo is now introducing U.S. special forces.

Those who have
been working for Christian-Muslim reconciliation warn of the potential risks.
“Dedeth Suacito, the Catholic coordinator of the Inter-religious Dialogue
Program [in Basilan], lamented that ‘we were making progress’—recalling a joint
celebration last month for Christmas and Eid al-Fitr, the most important Muslim
feast day—but that the insertion of US troops ‘will just make the gap wider’” (Boston
Globe
, 1/22). Rev. Eliseo R. Mercado Jr., president of Notre Dame University
in Mindanao, warned: “The war in Afghanistan has seemed very far away from the
Philippines. But now you’ve got American troops in camouflage uniforms going
into Muslim villages. In the long run, that will radicalize the Muslims” (NYT,
11/4).

In addition, the
MILF worries that the U.S. troops will be used against them. This worry is not
entirely baseless. Philippine military and intelligence sources have been
releasing a flurry of charges that, not just Abu Sayyaf, but the MILF and Nur
Misuari are linked to al-Qaeda. For those in the military establishment—and
there are many—who oppose any form of Muslim autonomy, the U.S. war on terrorism
might provide the basis for revoking the ARMM and for breaking off talks with
the MILF. (Similar dynamics are playing out in Somalia, where various warlords
have been telling U.S. intelligence of the supposed al-Qaeda links of their
rivals.)

As President
Macapagal-Arroyo and the U.S. government frequently acknowledge, the only
long-term solution to the problem of the Philippines’ Muslim minority is a
social and economic one. But Manila and Washington have paid lip-service to the
cause of social reform for years without fundamentally challenging the status
quo. The real danger in allowing U.S. troops to deploy in the southern
Philippines, in the words of Randy David, one of the Philippines’ most astute
observers, is that such a policy “exposes the nation to the dangers of
escalating the conflict and to the consequences of privileging a military
approach to the complex problems of Muslim Mindanao.”


Moreover, there
is another insurgency in the Philippines, this one by the communist New People’s
Army (NPA). Philippine Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes predicted that after
Philippine and U.S. forces finished off Abu Sayyaf, they would turn their
attention to the NPA (Gulf News, 1/17). The NPA, riven by splits, is not
the threat it once was; nevertheless, it too feeds off grinding poverty. It too
will never be defeated by military measures, but only by social reforms that
empower and address the grievances of the impoverished majority of the
Philippine people.

 


Sovereignty and U.S. Bases


A third reason to oppose
the deployment of U.S. troops is the matter of Philippine sovereignty. Some
Philippine politicians have dismissed this concern: “What is more important
now—sovereignty or the lives of our people in the hands of the Abu Sayyaf?” (Philippine
Daily Inquirer
[PDI], 1/19). But sovereignty is no irrelevant luxury;
I’m referring here not to some philosophical abstraction or still less some
reflexive opposition to things foreign, but people’s basic right to
democratically control their own destiny. Of course, given the grossly unequal
distribution of wealth and income in the Philippines, Philippine democracy will
inevitably be incomplete. Nevertheless, to the extent that crucial decisions
affecting the Philippine people are made not by Filipinos, but by outsiders, to
that extent the sovereignty of the Philippine people is compromised. To the
extent that crucial decisions affecting the Philippine people are made by
Philippine officials who, in an effort to please foreign interests, use deceit,
manipulation, and end-runs around the Constitution to carry out their policies,
to that extent too the sovereignty of the Philippine people is compromised.

For hundreds of
years, Philippine sovereignty was non-existent, with three and a half centuries
of Spanish colonial rule followed by a half century of U.S. colonial rule. But
even after formal independence in 1946, foreign domination continued. Washington
threatened to deny full rehabilitation payments to its war-ravaged former colony
unless Filipinos amended their constitution to give Americans and U.S.
corporations special investment rights. This arrangement passed the Philippine
Congress only after the ruling party illegally ousted several opposition
legislators. The Pentagon, with the help of compliant Philippine officials,
secured huge military bases—Clark Air Base and Subic Naval Base—that for years
served as the logistic hub for U.S. interventions from Vietnam to the Persian
Gulf. Washington, not Manila, decided how these bases would be used and against
whom, and the Philippine people were not informed of the presence of nuclear
weapons on their soil. Year after year, U.S. officials routinely intervened in
domestic Philippine politics, anointing and deposing presidents so as to protect
Washington’s economic and military position in the Philippines.

In 1965,
Ferdinand Marcos ran for president, declaring during the campaign that he
opposed sending any Philippine units to Vietnam to support the U.S. war there.
No sooner did Marcos win the election, than he urged the dispatch of a
Philippine civic action group to Vietnam. Congressional hearings in the United
States in 1969 revealed that in return for Marcos’s cooperation, the U.S.
government had supplied him with additional military aid, as well as with some
further payments the precise destination of which—U.S. officials asserted—could
not be determined.

When, in 1972, a
nationalist Supreme Court and Congress seemed to threaten U.S. corporate and
military interests, the United States backed Marcos as he imposed martial law. A
staff report for the U.S. Senate found that U.S. officials appeared “prepared to
accept” that “military bases and a familiar government in the Philippine are
more important than the preservation of democratic institutions” and thus
Washington was “altogether uncritical” of Marcos’s declaration of martial law.
The United States provided the Marcos dictatorship with military aid and
diplomatic support (as when Vice President George Bush Sr. toasted Marcos’s
“adherence to democratic principle and to the democratic processes”).

The opposition to
Marcos—moderate and radical alike—saw that as long as U.S. military bases
remained on Philippine soil, the United States would have a powerful incentive
to manipulate or undermine Philippine democracy. So when Marcos was deposed in
the People Power revolt of 1986, the new Constitution drawn up the following
year provided that after the U.S.-Philippine military bases pact expired in
1991, “foreign military bases, troops, or facilities shall not be allowed in the
Philippines except under a treaty duly concurred in by the Senate”—instead of by
executive agreement, as previously.

When a new bases
treaty came up for ratification in 1991, U.S. officials lobbied heavily, but the
Philippine Senate, reflecting nationalist pressures, rejected the treaty, ending
90 years of U.S. military bases in the Philippines. But even before the last
U.S. soldier was gone in 1992, Washington began maneuvering to obtain continued
access to the Philippines in another form. In 1999, Washington made limited
progress in this regard when a Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) was concluded
between the two nations, over strong nationalist opposition; the VFA allowed
U.S. forces back in the country for training missions. Under this agreement some
joint U.S.-Philippine military exercises have been held, but they have been of
short duration and held well outside the area of any actual military operations.


The
Macapagal-Arroyo administration has claimed that the current arrival of U.S.
troops does not violate the Constitution because their presence is permitted
under the VFA. Even many politicians who had backed the VFA were offended by
this dissembling. Senator Rodolfo Biazon, a former Armed Forces chief of staff
and co-sponsor of the VFA legislation, demanded that the Administration stop its
deceptions, noting that the six-month to one-year stated duration for the
mission was not within the definition of military field exercises contemplated
by that agreement (PDI, 1/16). (Admiral Blair, the head of all U.S.
forces in the Pacific, said the timing of the exercise “was set for an initial
period there of six months and I think we’ll evaluate it as we go…but you do
have to take these things a period at a time” (Singapore, 1/29). His
expectation, he said, was that it would last “months but not years” (CNA,
1/28)—which, as Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld noted in another context, meant it
might last up to 23 months.)

More significant
than the duration is the nature of the operation—which, noted the New York
Times
(1/16), “Filipino officials are careful to call an ‘exercise’ to avoid
inflaming domestic sensitivities to a large American military presence.” But the
terminology can’t hide the fact that armed U.S. military personnel are being
dispatched to a combat area. Presumably with a straight face, President Arroyo-
Macapagal explained that this operation was no different from previous annual
joint military exercises, except that the “curriculum and location have changed”
(PDI, 1/17). Philippine officials also tried to claim that U.S. troops
are permitted in the country under the 1951 U.S.-Philippine Mutual Defense
Treaty. But that treaty was designed to counter external armed attacks against
the Philippines, not the actions of internal Philippine gangs. If the Mutual
Defense Treaty can justify all deployments of American troops to the
Philippines, does that mean that the Constitutional requirement that “foreign
military bases, troops, or facilities shall not be allowed in the Philippines
except under a treaty duly concurred in by the Senate” never applied to the
United States? Certainly this reading was never contemplated during the
deliberations on the new Constitution.

Shortly after
September 11, President Macapagal-Arroyo declared her support for Bush’s war on
terrorism and gave permission for U.S. ships and aircraft to refuel at the
former U.S. military bases in the Philippines. When she traveled to Washington
in November, she was duly rewarded with $100 million in military aid (up from
$19 million) and generous trade subsidies. Bush also offered her U.S. troops to
use against Abu Sayyaf, but she turned this down, saying all she needed was
equipment and training. The United States and the Philippines have been
negotiating a Mutual Logistics Support Agreement—an executive agreement, whose
terms have not been disclosed. U.S. officials say it doesn’t go much further
than the VFA (Far Eastern Economic Review, 12/6); critics worry that it
will recreate the U.S. military bases under a different name. As U.S. special
forces—armed and authorized to fire in self-defense —deploy in the southern
Philippines, one can only wonder what this portends. As a diplomat in Washington
commented in mid-January (Daily Telegraph, 1/16): “The Americans have
been desperate to get back into the Philippines since their armed forces were
kicked out of the Clark and Subic Bay bases in 1992.”

The Philippine
Constitution does not bar foreign troops, it only prohibits them in the absence
of a treaty duly approved by the Philippine Senate. There has been no such
treaty. The Macapagal-Arroyo administration has apparently decided that such
legal niceties can be ignored in the war against terrorism. But, as Wigbert E.
Tañada, the convener of a coalition of Philippine organizations opposed to U.S.
troops, stated: “Resolving our domestic problems related to the Abu Sayyaf would
in fact be our best contribution to this international problem called
‘terrorism’.”                                                  Z


Stephen R.
Shalom teaches political science at William Paterson University. Among his
writings are
The United States and the Philippines: A Study of
Neocolonialism
and The Philippines Reader (South
End Press, co-editor), and
Imperial Alibis: Rationalizing U.S.
Intervention After the Cold War
(South End).