Friday, December 22, 2006

US Pulls Out Balikatan Joint Military Exercises


Political prostitute Gloria Arroyo will show her true colors soon after the United States flexed its muscle to achieve Daniel Smith custody. Future US military and economic aid to the Philippines is tied with mutual defense treaty. The government is fighting with the communist insurgency, the Moro separatist and the Abu Sayaff Muslim radicals. The United States is involved in counterinsurgency war after the end of Pacific war. The cancellation or decrease in military aid to the Philippines may hamper counterinsurgency campaign. The bankrupt Arroyo regime cannot afford to lose US military aid.

US pulls out of Balikatan, RP mercy missions

By Michaela P. del Callar

Daily Tribune 12/23/2006

The American PR game is finished. Kaput.

The United States government yesterday announced its cancellation of all military exercises and humanitarian operations in the Philippines following the custody dispute over American Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith, who was convicted of rape this month.

In what seemed to be a retaliatory move against the Philippine government for denying twice its request for American custody of Smith, the US Embassy in Manila said all the scheduled military exercises with the Philippines next year will be cancelled.

“The reason is the current custody issue. The US wants protection of US military personnel. It wouldn’t be prudent to bring in US

troops if the Philippines can not assure their protection,” said Embassy spokesman Matthew Lussenhop.

The joint military exercises would involve about 4,700 American troops and 3,000 from the Philippines.

Reporters tried to get a comment from Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo, but he declined to issue a statement.

Presidential Commission on the Visiting Forces (VFAcom) Executive Director Zosimo Paredes said he is “not aware of such a thing.”

The US government has accused the Philippines of not complying with the terms of the VFA when it thumbed down its request for the immediate transfer of Smith to its embassy in Manila.

American authorities asserted its right to have custody over Smith until after all judicial proceedings are over, as stated under the military agreement.

Makati judge Benjamin Pozon sentenced Smith to life imprisonment last Dec. 4 after declaring him guilty of raping a 23-year-old woman in Subic last year.

Pozon also rejected bids by the US embassy and the Philippine government to have Smith turned over to US custody. Smith remains at the Makati City Jail.

Both the Philippine and US governments “agree” that Smith, as a member of the US military governed by the VFA, should be in US custody.

The Philippine government and US embassy both argued the VFA provides for US custody of its soldiers facing criminal charges during the judicial process, including an appeal.

“No doubt both governments are in agreement. However, the question is still the custody and to get him back to US custody,” Lussenhop said.

“The VFA provides the legal framework. But since the Philippine government is not complying, it is not prudent for additional forces to come until the custody issue is resolved,” he added.

A report from the New York Times quoted US Forces in the Pacific, Adm. William J. Fallon, as saying that “he would halt aid and reconstruction programs carried out by the American military in the Philippines until he was confident that the troops’ legal rights would be protected under bilateral agreements governing visiting United States forces.”

Aside from this, millions worth of US military aid and counter-terrorism assistance to the Philippines may also be in jeopardy.

But Lussenhop said he is not sure if the US government is also planning to curtail any ongoing activity on humanitarian assistance.

“I’m not sure. We’re not talking about civilian aid. What we’re talking about is Balikatan. I don’t have the transcript of Admiral Fallon’s interview,” he said.

Malacañang tried to downplay the US government’s cancellation of the Balikatan and humanitarian missions n the country.

In a phone interview, Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Sergio Apostol said what happened yesterday was merely a “temporary setback” and the Palace is still hopeful that Smith will be brought back to the custody of the US authorities.

Apostol added that the Philippine government is doing its best and has dispatched the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to file a legal action before the Court of Appeals (CA), with the great possibility of the CA ruling in favor of the VFA provision.

“We already filed the necessary action before the CA and we are totally confident that within the next few days, the CA will rule in favor of the international treaty,” Apostol said .

A highly reliable security official yesterday also expressed belief that the decision of the US government to cancel the war games will have a negative impact on the country’s security but he refused to elaborate.

“What can we do if our allies cannot understand us? Definitely, there’ll be some security implications but the extent of which I don’t know yet,” the official said.

The security official also promised to talk to his counterpart in the US government to discuss the matter.

Smith, along with three other US servicemen, were charged with raping a Filipino woman, known as Nicole in Nov. 1 at the former American base in Subic Bay, Olongapo City.

Smith was found guilty by a lower court while his three co-accused Staff Sergeant Chad Carpentier, Lance Corporals Dominic Duplantis and Keith Silkwood were acquitted by the court.

The assault on the woman has stirred anti-American emotions in the former American colony, with several militant groups and legislators calling for the abrogation of the VFA.

After Manila terminated the bases agreement with the US in 1991, the two countries signed in 1998 the VFA, which allows bilateral military exercises between US and Filipino troops.

For his part, Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez yesterday said Judge Pozon’s decision on the controversial Subic Rape case prompted the US government to cancel next year’s Balikatan military exercises with the Filipino troops.

Gonzalez confirmed the US government has also pulled out its troops assisting the thousands of people displaced by the recent calamity in Bicol and received information that the US would no longer push through with its plan to conduct joint exercises with the members of the Philippine National Police (PNP).

The US actions indicate the relations between the two countries has gone sour due to the failure of the Philippines to perform its obligations under the VFA, the DoJ chief, who appears to be lawyering for Smith and the US, stressed.

“We cannot blame the US for its actions because we don’t seem to know how to respect our treaty with them. That is unfortunate because the government has always been willing to comply with its treaty obligations. Unfortunately, we cannot avoid the processes of the court” Gonzalez said, in an interview.

“But I have to thank Judge Pozon. He should be given a medal of honor. I will recommend him to Speaker Jose de Venecia to give him a congressional medal of distinction,” Gonzalez said, sacrcastically.

Gonzalez said the cancellation of the Balikatan is a “big deal” for the Philippine government because our military troops are getting a lot of good inputs and trainings from these exercises.

Nonetheless, he said, the US should understand that the government cannot dictate on the courts.

“Maybe this is just an early reaction but what is to me the point is that we have no control over the courts. If we have courts decided by judges with certain agenda there is nothing we can do about it,” the DoJ chief stated.

Nicole’s lawyer Evalyn Ursua said the government has nothing to lose with the cancellation of the Balikatan exercises.

“We should not be worried because there is no need for that kind of exercise. We are not at war and we don’t have enemies. If the US feels that the issue on VFA should be resolved first before the Balikatan exercises then so be it,” Ursua said.

On the senators’ part, it is all pressure tactics that are being employed by the US.

Senators made the accusation yesterday in the light of the cancellation by the US government of the joint military Balikatan exercises, a matter which they viewed could only be related to the Smith case.

Majority Leader Francis Pangilinan urged members of the judiciary not to allow the pressure to prevail.

“The decision to cancel the Balikatan exercises is for them (US) to make. It is of interest to note, however, that the rape case arose as a consequence of a past Balikatan exercise and so this should be a welcome development for anti-VFA groups.

“This should not in any way pressure the judiciary to rule in their (US government) favor in the Smith custody case,” Pangilinan said.

Sen. Rodolfo Biazon, who defended the VFA during the ratification process at the Senate, said it can easily be deduced that the Smith case is the only reason behind the cancellation of the joint military exercises.

“What could be the more logical reason for this except that Smith case because there is no other prevailing condition here in the country that would warrant such a cancellation.

“We can afford not to have the military component of the Balikatan but it surely will create a major impact when the matter of assistance we have been receiving in terms of logistical needs and the humanitarian aspect of the joint military exercises because they have been helping us reconstruct Mindanao and Bicol,” he said.

Biazon, former Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff, also said it’s high time that the government considers calling for a review of the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), the basis for having the VFA.

“We need to ascertain whether we still need the VFA or not,” he said.

For Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, she said said most of the members of the bicameral Legislative Oversight Committee on the Visiting Forces Agreement (LOVFA) favor custody by US authorities on the ground that under the joint military agreement, custody should be transferred to Philippine authorities only after the Supreme Court appeal has become final and executory.

Santiago, Lovfa chair, said that the custody issue depends on the interpretation of the phrase “completion of all judicial proceedings.”

“It is part of the law of our land that contract obligations should be carried out in good faith. This is the generally accepted principle of international law known as pacta sunt servanda. The trial judge disregarded this particular principle in his decision,” she said. With Sherwin C. Olaes, Angie M. Rosales and AFP

Visiting Forces Agreement
Materials on the Visiting Forces Agreement
Manila Accuses U.S. of ‘Pressure’ Over Jailed Marine
Southeast Asia and the Philippines:The Second Front in the U.S. ‘War on Terror’
Smith returned to custody of US embassy

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