Friday, September 26, 2008

Philippine Lawmakers Begin Probe Of US Military Presence In Mindanao

MANILA, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Sept. 26, 2008) – Filipino lawmakers are to begin an inquiry into the role of US troops deployed in the southern Philippines, where security forces are battling Abu Sayyaf terrorists and other rebel groups in the troubled region.

The inquiry was called after several political groups and lawmakers claimed US soldiers are participating in combat operations in the restive region, which is prohibited under the Filipino Constitution.

The Joint Legislative on Oversight Committee on Visiting Forces Agreement has already created a fact-finding team to investigate the allegations.

The team, headed by Rep. Antonio Cuenco and Senator Rodolfo Biazon are expected to arrive in Zamboanga City on October 1 to start the probe. US forces maintain several small bases inside the Western Mindanao Command headquarters, the Philippine Navy base and the Philippine Air Force and Philippine Army bases in Zamboanga City.

Reps. Maria Isabelle Climaco and Erico Fabian have joined the growing calls for an investigation into the continued stay of US forces in Zamboanga City since 2002, when Manila and Washington agreed to hold a series of joint military exercise there.

Among those calling for the investigation were the militant groups Bayan Muna to which Rep. Satur Ocampo, a staunch anti-US advocate, belongs; the independent Citizens Peace Watch, Bantay-Ceasefire and several Muslim human rights groups.

Former Southern Philippines military chief, Edilberto Adan, now the Executive Director of the Presidential Commission on VFA, has repeatedly denied the involvement of US troops in any combat operations in Mindanao.

Political activists have accused Adan of siding with the US military and called for his resignation. It said the VFA Commission should be headed by a civilian, who is “respectable and neutral” and not by a former military general.

“Adan should resign because he had sided so many times with the US military, instead of searching for the truth. He acts like a lawyer for the US forces, instead of being a patriotic Filipino citizen,” said Alvin San Jose, an activist.

Philippine Marines Lt. Gen. Nelson Allaga, commander of the Western Mindanao Command based in Zamboanga City, said American troops are engaged in humanitarian missions and they are not allowed to participate in combat operations.

But aside from humanitarian missions, the US military said it is supporting the Philippines war on terror by providing the local military with intelligence information against the Abu Sayyaf and other rebel groups in Mindanao.

The US Embassy also said the American forces are assisting, advising and training Philippine units, and conduct series of humanitarian activities and soldiers are not supposed to engage in direct combat.

The Philippines Commission on Human Rights said it has reports of US participation in combat operations against the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf in Sulu and Tawi-Tawi provinces. (With reports from Erico Rosco and Juan Mantanggol)

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