Mr. Speaker, I rise today on a matter of personal and collective privilege close to the hearts of both the representatives coming from Mindanao and of the women legislators of this Chamber.
Today marks the opening salvo of the RP-US “Balanced Piston” Balikatan exercises in Mindanao. At least 600 American troops have arrived in Midsayap and Tacurong towns in Cotabato and Marawi City in Lanao del Sur. The US embassy said the Balikatan will run up to March 3 and will focus on the training of Filipino troops to provide relief and assistance together, in the event of natural disasters and other crises that endanger public health and safety. They claim that the US soldiers are set to conduct a series of humanitarian missions comprising of free medical, dental and veterinary care or medical and civic action programs, otherwise known as MEDCAPS.
Mr. Speaker, the Gabriela Women’s Party is questioning the real motive behind these so-called humanitarian missions. We see this as a ploy to conceal the very intrusive US military’s combat and intelligence operations in our country. At the same time, through these missions, the U.S. in collaboration with the Philippine government is able to pave a gilded path for a grudging acceptance towards American corporations that have cornered highly profitable contracts over Mindanao’s resources. The oil-rich shores of the second biggest island in the country are being drooled over by multi-national giants planning profitable partnerships with the Philippine government. And we all know that our government has a poor track record in honest to goodness deals that can benefit our people.
The danger with these humanitarian missions, Mr. Speaker, is that they attempt to spread a mantle over the human rights abuses by the US soldiers in our country. The experiences of our people in Mindanao speak clearly of the real motive of the Balikatan exercises and the peril that it poses on our people.
Last February 4, US troops joined a military raid by the Philippine Navy Special Warfare group over a suspected Abu Sayyaf lair at a fishing village in Brgy. Ipil, Maimbung, Sulu. In that mission, seven civilians, including two children and two teenagers and an off-duty soldier were killed. Our colleagues in this august body have delivered privilege speeches and passed resolutions to conduct an independent probe on the February 4 massacre.
The Out Now Coalition, a broad network of NGOs and people’s organizations has also listed the following atrocities committed by the US forces in the last five years.
- On July 25, 2002, the house of the Isnijal family in Brgy. Kanas, Tuburan was raided by a team of US and Philippines soldiers around midnight. US Sgt. Reggie Lane shot a sleeping Buyong-Buyong Isnijal, 27 years old , in the leg. Isnijal’s wife, Juraida was also hurt in the ensuing scuffle with the raiding team. Philippine authorities arrested and detained Isnijal for allegedly being a member of the Abu Sayyaf
- In 2003, while American troops were training their Filipino counterparts in target shooting inside the base in Malagutay, Zamboanga City, Arsid Baharun was hit by a stray bullet from the exercises. To avoid being charged as Abu Sayyaf, Baharun chose to accept an amicable settlement from the US troops.
- On July 31, 2004, an elderly Moro woman in Manarapan, North Cotabato died of a heart attack upon seeing a helicopter carrying US soldiers, thinking it was a military aircraft.
- In September 2006, a mother suffered from shrapnel wounds coming from a bomb detonated during joint exercises in Brgy. Tagbak, Indanan, Sulu. Buh Bizma was hit on her back while doing the laundry in her house.
- In September 2007, five US servicemen in Gen. Santos City caused alarm when they displayed their firearms in a restaurant.
- In December 2007, US soldiers meddled in the operation of a hospital in Panama, Sulu. They ordered hospital personnel to close the facility every night and to refuse patients coming afterwards. A certain Master Sergeant Ronburg from the US military forces based in Camp Teodulo Bautista in Jolo, allegedly ordered on November 30, 2007, the closure of the district hospital in Panamao Sulu during night time and prevented medical personnel from treating patients after sundown. Dr. Silak Lakkian, chief of the Panamao District Hospital said that a team of US soldiers barged in and told the chief nurse to close it not later than 6pm and threatened to shoot anybody seen in the hospital premises after that time.
Mr. Speaker, distinguished colleagues, these MEDCAPS conducted by U.S. servicemen undermine the capacity of local civilian authorities and highlight the inability of local agencies to carry out the same tasks, because the latter are hampered by limited resources. It highlights the sad reality that while Mindanao contributes so much to the coffers of the national treasury, it receives little in return.
With the Balikatan exercises, women and children- Mindanao’s poorest and most disenfranchised populace – will again be targets of the sugar-coated military campaign in our country. Tormented by decades of displacement, forced to live in extremely difficult circumstances in times of evacuation, made to leave behind their homes, their farms and their meager possession of farm animals, we can not allow the people of Mindanao to keep on starting all over again. We can not allow our women to be subjected to indignities, to be sexually violated, when the soldiers go on rest and recreation. What happened to Nicole, a 22 year old woman from Zamboanga, who was gang-raped by U.S. service men in Clark, Pampanga speaks clearly of the sexual violence that could be inflicted on Filipinas by U.S. soldiers. It is a clear illustration of how our sovereignty and justice system can be trampled upon by the U.S. through the Visiting Forces Agreement to save their soldiers and their interest in the country.
Mr. Speaker, I believe it is high time that we are enlightened on the real score as to how the Mutual Logistics Support Agreement and the Visiting Forces Agreement are being implemented. The fact that since 2002, around 17 to 24 Balikatan exercises had been held yearly, what have we accomplished so far?
These military exercises have only succeeded in making us remember the painful massacres in Bud Daho, the massive displacement of settlers and indigenous peoples, the unjust accusations against Muslim people and the silent cries of our women and children.
These military exercises and our recent experiences have only succeeded in illustrating the wanton intervention of US troops in affairs in our cities and municipalities, even specifically in our hospitals, and in the lives of the Mindanaoans and the Filipino people.
The US-RP VFA and the Mutual Logistics Support Agreement, which legitimize US military presence and exercises, are all in violation of provisions in the Constitution barring military base operations, criminal accountability of American soldiers to Philippine Courts, nuclear weapons and accountability for damages to the environment caused by toxic wastes. Both agreements circumvent the termination of the US-RP Military Bases Agreement in 1991, as the whole country is virtually maintained as a military base of the US. It is precisely because of our recent experiences that now see the undermining of our Constitution, our patrimony and sovereignty.
Over the last five years, the House inquiries on this matter have not succeeded in protecting our sovereignty and seeking justice for the victims of the atrocities of both American and Filipino soldiers. Mr. Speaker, it is high time we take action. Let us hear the pleas of our people for justice.
Mr. Speaker, distinguished colleagues, the Committee on Mindanao Affairs has moved for the immediate suspension of the US-RP Balikatan Military Exercises until these injustices are addressed and until the conclusion of the stalled GRP-MILF peace negotiations. This representation has recently filed a resolution calling for the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement in the light of the Panamao incident and other atrocities of U.S. soldiers in Mindanao. Let us move for the abrogation of the lopsided military agreements – the Visiting Forces Agreement and the Mutual Logistics Support Agreement. Let us move to ban the entry of US troops in this country in a bid to uphold its sovereignty, to reclaim our land and our dignity that has, for years, been trampled on over and over again.
Good afternoon. #