MANILA, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Sept. 28, 2008) - The Alliance of Concerned Teachers asked the Senate Legislative Oversight Committee on the Visiting Forces Agreement (LOCVFA) to investigate the direct involvement of United States troops in the operation that killed Abu Sayyaf leader Aldam Tilao, also known as Abu Sabaya, in June 2002.
Tilao was killed in an operation believed led by the US forces while trying to escape a massive government manhunt in Zamboanga del Nortye province. A video footage taken by a thermal camera mounted on a US spy plane recorded the operation and has been posted in the Internet.
The group urged the Senate to summon two Philippine Marines officers, Major General Juancho Sabban and Major Gieram Aragones to shed light on the participation of US soldiers in the said operation. Sabban is currently the commander of the Joint Task Force Comet based in Sulu while Aragones is a Marine intelligence officer.
“These two officers gave the American journalist Mark Bowden extensive interviews in which they openly acknowledged working with the US Central Intelligence Agency and the US Navy SEALs in an operation to track down and eventually eliminate Abu Sabaya,” Antonio Tinio, ACT chairman, said in a statement.
Tinio noted that Sabban and Aragones provided much of the source material for Bowden’s article entitled “Jihadists in Paradise,” which appeared as the cover story of the U.S. magazine The Atlantic in March 2007.
The article recounts the roles played by the Philippine military, US commandos, and the CIA in hunting down the Abu Sayyaf, the bandit group that kidnapped 20 tourists from the Dos Palmas resort in 2001.
The hostages included three Americans—Guillermo Sobero and Martin and Gracia Burnham. Bowden’s piece served as the basis for the documentary “Stalking Jihad,” which was first aired on the US cable channel The History Channel last October 2007. Sabban and Aragones likewise make appearances in the TV documentary.
Bowden is the best-selling author of Black Hawk Down, which recounts the US military’s debacle in Somalia . The book was subsequently turned into a Hollywood movie.
“Bowden's article recounts that two US Navy SEAL teams participated in the mission that resulted in the killing of Abu Sabaya. They served as backups to the team led by then Capt. Aragones. That wasn’t just a training exercise, it was a combat mission,” said Tinio.
“The candid revelations made by Sabban and Aragones in the article are clear evidence that US troops directly participated in combat operations in Philippine territory, in direct violation of the Visiting Forces Agreement and the Philippine Constitution.” The RP-US Mutual Defense Treaty and the VFA only allow the presence of US troops on Philippine territory for joint military exercises.
Tinio said the Atlantic article raised wider questions regarding violations of Philippine sovereignty.
“We’re not just talking about violations of the terms of the VFA. The article confirms that the CIA, US military intelligence, and even the FBI have been operating freely in the south in the name of the so-called war on terror, with the full consent and cooperation of our government."
"It also confirms that the many joint exercises being conducted in Mindanao are used as a cover for US military operations in the area. This is making a mockery of the Constitution.”
ACT has urged Filipino lawmakers to scrap the VFA.