Important provision deleted in final Terms of Reference - Bayan
Wednesday, 20 February 2002
US troops are here to stay even after the Balikatan has been completed.
This was revealed today by the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) as it presented to media its study of the new Balikatan Terms of Reference (TOR) that shows, among others, the deletion from the original draft of an important provision mandating the swift withdrawal of forces when the war exercise winds up.
It also warned against an "escalation of conflict, with an expanded war against other "enemies" of the US and Philippine governments possibly swallowing the whole of Mindanao and the entire country."
According to Bayan, the original draft of the TOR released by Vice President Teofisto Guingona had a provision stating: "The Exercise shall be conducted and completed within a period of not more than six months, with the projected participation of 660 US personnel and 3,800 Philippine forces. The Chief of Staff, AFP, shall direct the Exercise Co-Directors to wind up the Exercise and other activities and the withdrawal of US forces within the six months Exercise period."
In the final draft, the entire phrase regarding the withdrawal of US troops was deleted.
It now reads : "The Chief of Staff, AFP, shall direct the Exercise Co-Directors to wind up and terminate the Exercise and other activities within the six months Exercise period."
"Why was this important section deleted in the final TOR? Does this mean that the US troops can stay in the country even after the Balikatan?s completion? If so, then the Arroyo administration has been lying when it said that US troops will be here for only 6 months," remarked Bayan spokesperson Renato. M. Reyes, Jr.
Bayan assailed the new provision of the TOR saying it gives the US "practically unlimited stay in the country". According to Bayan, this is no longer covered even by the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) which only contemplates the temporary stay of US troops in the country for the sole reason of joint military exercises.
"Not specifying the withdrawal of US troops means there is a chance for the US to prolong their stay in the country. Allowing foreign troops to stay in the country for reasons other than joint military exercises is a clear violation of the constitution and even the VFA. This only fuels our long suspicion that there is more to this Balikatan than just the Abu Sayyaf. We have just opened the floodgates for the return of the US bases and US military intervention in our internal affairs," Reyes said.
According to Bayan, President Arroyo is currently contemplating the use of US troops for other combat operations beyond the Abu Sayyaf. In a dialogue with Protestant church leaders last week, Arroyo was said to be considering the future deployment of US troops in other areas of conflict.
"It now appears that Arroyo is preparing to escalate the armed conflict in the country by deploying US troops in other regions where the enemy is no longer the Abu Sayyaf. She's setting the stage for another Vietnam," Reyes warned.
The New People's Army and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front main mass bases in Mindanao, with the latter having an active presence in Basilan and Western Mindanao where US troops are now present. The NPA meanwhile has been tagged recently by the US State Department in its "Terrorist Exclusion List".
"An escalation of conflict is highly probable given the deceptive statements, contrary actions and the US government's independent reading of the Philippine situation. Bayan continued its scathing criticism of President Arroyo's plans of allowing permanent US military presence in the country through such schemes as the Mutual Logistics Support Agreement and joint military exercises.
Reyes pointed out that "only Arroyo and her sidekick "denial king" Rigoberto Tiglao are denying the existence of an MLSA that was already confirmed by the US State Department, the US Pacific Command, the AFP Chief of Staff and the Philippine Secretary of National Defense."
"Arroyo is out to circumvent and violate every law prohibiting the return of US bases. Touted as chief architect of the country's foreign policy, she has been riding roughshod over the Senate by allowing the prolonged stay of foreign troops in our country. She should be held fully accountable for such a treasonous acts," Reyes said.
Bayan is all set to mount bigger protest actions in the coming days. A big rally will be held on February 25, the 16th anniversary of EDSA 1 which toppled the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
?There will be no let up in the protest actions, not when the present administration has proven to be an inveterate liar and puppet of US interests," said Reyes. ###