U.S. SOFs operations in the Philippines: A matter of grave concern
The additional permanent deployment of large U.S. interventionary forces in our country will not be consistent with the pro-peace provisions of our Constitution, and it will certainly affect our foreign relations with many other countries which are hosting our Overseas Filipino Workers.
Roland G. Simbulan
University of the Philippines;
Senior Fellow, CenPEG
Statement before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, House of Representatives, Congress of the Philippines, March 6, 2012.
I would like to thank the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Alfrancis Bichara, and Rep. Walden Bello of the Akbayan Party List, for inviting me to appear before the Committee on Foreign Affairs to comment on the issues of concern in Philippine-U.S. security relations, as raised in the privilege speech of Rep. Walden Bello. The issues of transparency and accountability by the Executive branch in the conduct of its foreign relations are very important for our legislative body which is supposed to be the one shaping our foreign policy, though not implementing it. I do not want to believe in what author I.F. Stone said, that, "The number one rule to remember is, Governments lie." It is therefore relevant to raise the issue of whether the current 600 U.S. military forces here deployed since 2002, are conducting activities beyond what is stated in the Philippine-U.S. Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), or are doing activities BEYOND the terms and provisions of the VFA. I raise this point as a concerned citizen and academician, and before we even accept that we allow the increase of U.S. military forces deployed in the Philippines and the establishment of more permanent bases here on our territory.
On the U.S. facilities and forward bases already established in the country
The 2002 and 2009 Philippine Supreme Court decisions on the Visiting Forces Agreement only allows for joint military exercises like the Balikatan, and small unit joint military exercises. The Supreme Court decisions categorically state that the VFA does not allow basing rights or facilities to be constructed for transient U.S. forces in the Philippines. They also do not allow U.S. military forces to be involved in counterinsurgency operations in the country.
Both U.S. and Philippine government officials have issued denials of the existence of U.S. facilities or bases, as well as involvement of U.S. military forces in direct combat operations. But these have been belied by events, U.S. Congressional documents, and insider testimonies. As one who has studied and researched on national security issues and defense policies of the United States, I would like to state that what the Pentagon has installed in the Philippines are in fact secret bases and facilities, and that their permanently deployed forces consisting mostly of U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOFs) are engaged in a secret war in support of counter-insurgency warfare. These units specialize in lethal secret, special ops, or clandestine operations, which they do on their own, directed by Pentagon, but without the knowledge or coordination from the host countries.
The revelations in a 2009 affidavit of resigned Philippine Navy Lt. Senior Grade Nancy Gadian on the direct involvement of U.S. soldiers in the counterinsurgency war in the country and their setting up of permanent bases is quite revealing. Her sworn statement and testimony of the existence of officially unacknowledged U.S. "forward operating sites and bases" used by U.S. military forces and regarding the combat role of U.S. military forces in the Philippines, particularly in Mindanao, is the most telling insider's account from a military whistleblower of what U.S. military forces and U.S. intelligence operatives are actually doing in the Philippines. Gadian has been praised by the Philippine Daily Inquirer, and the mainstream media, as well as other sectors of Philippine society, "for her patriotism of the highest order" as a soldier upholding the Filipino people's interests. Her critical testimony was vital to the passage and approval on Sept. 22, 2009, with not a single objection, of the Senate Resolution 1356, "RESOLUTION EXPRESSING THE SENSE OF THE SENATE THAT THE DEPARTMENT OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS SHOULD SEEK TO RENEGOTIATE THE VISITING FORCES AGREEMENT WITH THE UNITED STATES, AND IN CASE OF DENIAL, SHOULD GIVE NOTICE OF TERMINATION OF THE VFA."/1
President Noynoy Aquino, who was then a Senator of the Republic, was one of the signatories to this Senate resolution.
Gadian's testimony merely corroborated a published interview of a former American JSOTF-P Commander for the Philippines Col. Bill Coultrup, who was interviewed by Tom Shanker of the New York Times, and where Col. Coultrup revealed that, "20% of his work in the Philippines is combat related, while 80% is civil military operations." Combat is defined by the interviewee as "capture and kill missions." The Gadian testimony is important because she served as Officer in Charge of the Civil Military Task Group of Balikatan in 2007, responsible for the administrative, operational, and financial requirements of the joint military exercises, and in this role, had served as liaison officer of the AFP with the U.S. Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines. Her testimony is all the more significant because it sheds light on a lot of things that have been hidden from the Filipino and American peoples. It only reveals the fact that there are many activities which have been and are being kept hidden by the U.S. and Philippine governments about what U.S. SOFs under the JSOTF-P are really doing in Mindanao and in the Philippines. These are under the cover of the VFA, the Balikatan exercises, and the so-called humanitarian missions by U.S. Army Rangers, Seals teams and SOFs. They have established in our combat zones, what in military parlance is called, C4I (Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence).
In her sworn affidavit and testimony before the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on the VFA co-chaired by Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago and Rep. Cuenco of Cebu, in August 2009, Navy Lt. Senior Grade Gadian exposed the existence of the following secret U.S. forward operating sites/ bases and facilities in Mindanao:
1. In Camp Navarro, the headquarters of the Western Mindanao Command in Zamboanga City, where the U.S. Joint Special Operations Task Force is based, with two permanent structures guarded by U.S. Marines, and where Filipino officers cannot just enter or have access. This is considered a "principal operating base" in U.S. Congressional budgetary documents, although the U.S. or Philippine governments do not officially acknowledge its existence to the public.
2. In Camp Malagutay, Barangay Malagutay, Zamboanga City, there is a training unit of the U.S. JSOTF-P with structures and communications and administrative facilities.
3. In Camp Andrews Air Base, Sta. Maria, Zamboanga City, U.S. military forces actively use the airstrip and have based C-12, C-130 aircraft and Chinook helicopters there.
4. In Camp General Bautista, Busbus, Jolo, Sulu province, U.S. JSOTF have also set up clandestine facilities there.
5. In the Philippine Navy Station, Batu-Bato, Panglima, Sugala, Tawi Tawi, several U.S. Seals Teams have set up facilities there.
6. U.S. military forces have free access to practically all AFP camps all over the country. In many parts of the country, Philippine authorities, according to Gadian, do not have control over the movements or activities of U.S. military personnel, i.e., U.S. Seals Teams, nor are these monitored by the AFP or by the Philippine government.
The last point reminds me of the recently declassified 1984 U.S. State Department document, especially an internal memorandum which drives home the point that the U.S. does not really inform us, their host country of what they are actually doing here or their activities:
"Divulgence of the fact that nuclear weapons are stored in the Philippines, and have been there for many years without prior consultation with the Philippine government, would gravely jeopardize U.S.-Philippine relations.....The Philippine government and public are not aware of storage...."
As for the installation of bases and facilities which are prohibited by the Philippine Constitution, and in the interpretation of the Supreme Court, the VFA does not include their construction. Lt. Gadian stated that, among Filipino officers and soldiers, these installations are referred to as "American camps" in Camp Navarro, Zamboanga City, in Malagutay, Zambaonga, in Sulu, in Basilan and as far as Tawi Tawi. Gadian also testified that the U.S. troops are there 365 days of the year, have set up their own facilities and camps and are embedded in Philippine combat operations.
On the matter of U.S. Special Operations Forces
Most of the personnel in the so-called Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines deployed in Zamboanga, Basilan and Sulu, are from the U.S. Special Operations (SOF) Command. After the 2001, 9/11 attacks, the United States treated the Philippines, next to Afghanistan, as its second front in the war against international terrorism. This concretely, led to the deployment of the elite U.S. SOFs which is a composite force and command by itself. The SOF of the U.S. Armed Forces consists of the Green Berets, Rangers Special Operations Aviation, SEALS, and Delta Force. They are elite in the sense that they are the most highly trained in the U.S. armed forces specifically for clandestine operations and unconventional warfare. They are part of the Central Command (formerly the Rapid Deployment Force), with headquarters in Tampa, Florida, and are directly supervised by the U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict (SO/LIC).
Under Section 167 of Title 10 of the U.S. Code which created the Special Operations Command, SOF operations are described as involved in "direct action" (small-scale strikes), unconventional or irregular warfare, civil affairs and psychological operations (psy-ops to influence public opinion), foreign internal defense (arming and training paramilitary forces), and counter-terrorism training. US SOFs now are known to employ the unmanned Drones, especially the Predator drone, not only for surveillance and spying technologically, but to shoot and kill, using unmanned vehicles. The widespread use of drones in Iraq and Afghanistan has resulted in many civilian casualties, accidentally mistaken as terrorists by these electronically-managed aerial robots. SOFs, together with CIA special hit teams, have also been known to specialize in political assassinations in Iraq and Afghanistan, including in the Middle East.
In recent years, the U.S. Special Operations Forces have organized more clandestine operations to engage in "black operations" in many countries like Afghanistan and Iraq. The WikiLeaks war diaries revealed the existence of Task Force 373, an assassination unit that killed many children in a "botched raid" in Afghanistan.
In the eyes of many people inside and outside the United States, these activities and practices legitimize the execution of terrorist suspects as part of U.S. international policy, but operating outside due process and the rule of international law. These practices demean the system established by the United Nations and the International Criminal Court. What do such institutions exist for, if execution is immediately applied and the opposing party is not permitted any kind of defense?
On the matter of the possible deployment of U.S. Marines from Okinawa/Japan to the Philippines
In recent weeks, the U.S. and international media has been filled with reports that because of the persistent Okinawan and Japanese peoples' resistance to continued U.S. bases in Japan, the U.S. may pull out 8,000 U.S. troops from that country, and may distribute the withdrawn units to Darwin, Northern Australia, Guam and the Philippines. The U.S. Marines in Okinawa belong to the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Forces there, and they are considered in U.S. military literature as "the hub of U.S. forward deployed combat forces," ready to be used for interventions in other countries.
As such, the additional permanent deployment of large U.S. interventionary forces in our country will not be consistent with the pro-peace provisions of our Constitution, and it will certainly affect our foreign relations with many other countries which are hosting our Overseas Filipino Workers. I really hope that the new secret agreements or deals being hatched by the Pentagon's New Defense Guidance/Plan will not lead to the deployment of more U.S. interventionary forces in our country, or the establishment of more permanent U.S. bases inside our AFP military camps.
I would like to end with a quote from the late Claro M. Recto's 1951 speech "A Mendicant Foreign Policy" to wit:
"The objective of any foreign policy is national interest. American interest is and must
be the primordial objective of American foreign policy. Philippine foreign policy does
not follow this rule."
We are now in the second decade of the 21st century. Is Philippine foreign policy still not following this rule where the objective of our foreign policy should be our national interest?
Thank you for allowing me to share my thoughts on this vital issue.
1. Senate Resolution 1356, Sept. 22, 2009.
2. Sworn Affidavit and Testimony of Navy Lt. Senior Grade Nancy Gadian, Aug. 26, 2009.
Addendum Statement on the AFP's Attempt to Malign Resigned Navy Lt. Senior Grade Nancy Gadian
It has been brought to my attention that after I left the public hearing of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs last Tuesday, March 6, 2012, a representative of the Armed Forces of the Philippines tried to stain Gadian's credibility - and in my absence - told the committee that Nancy Gadian's credibility has been weakened by the fact that she was accused by the AFP of financial anomalies, at the time that she issued her 2009 sworn affidavit before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chaired by Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago. This statement that I am issuing is to clarify the issue around Nancy Gadian, whose sworn affidavit shed light on the establishment of U.S. forward basing sites and facilities, as well as the involvement of U.S. forces in Mindanao in counterinsurgency, based on her direct personal experience. I submitted a copy of this sworn affidavit of Gadian to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and used it as a supporting document to show that U.S. troops are permanently deployed in Mindanao, have established permanent facilities and forward bases there, and that they are indeed engaged in counterinsurgency. Gadian has been directly involved with the Balikatan exercises from 2002-2007, in its planning and implementation, and served as Deputy Chief of Civil Military Operations of the Naval Forces in Western Mindanao in the 2007 RP-US Balikatan exercises.
Roland G. Simbulan
Professor 12 in Development Studies and Public Management,
University of the Philippines
March 9, 2012