MANILA – Different groups today denounced the reported proposed airstrikes by the US military against ISIS-linked groups in Mindanao, warning that this will violate Philippine sovereignty, as well as the 1987 Philippine Constitution, which bans foreign troops from participating in combat operations.
In an Aug. 7 report, NBC News cited two unnamed US defense officials who said Pentagon may soon allow drone airstrikes against ISIS-inspired terror groups in the Philippines, as part of “collective self-defense.”
Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) said such proposed US airstrike may also lead to America’s permanent military presence in the country. The group has long argued that continued defense agreements, joint trainings and military aid from the US has failed to help the Philippine military build its defense capability.
“There is a concerted effort now on the part of several US agencies to push for an expanded US role in the fight against ISIS in Mindanao, using the ongoing conflict as a pretext for permanent US basing and power-projection in Southeast Asia,” said Renato Reyes Jr, Bayan secretary general.
“The US wants to make the Philippines another Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria or Somalia,” he said.
Malacanang has denied that there has been any discussion on such a proposal.
For more than two months, the Philippine military has been locked in a fierce battle against the local armed group Dawlah Islamiyah, which attacked the Islamic City of Marawi. Dawlah Islamiyah is reportedly affiliated with the Daesh, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, also called ISIS. The terror group remains entrenched in Marawi in spite of military airstrikes, which has left the city in tatters and accidentally killed 13 government troops.
In July, Bayan cited a Senate testimony by Gen. Raymond Thomas III, commander of the US Special Special Operations Command (Ussocom), who said that the Philippines is now one of the “priority areas” of the Ussocom, which focuses against “violent extremist organizations” or VEOs, such as ISIS. Thomas gave the testimony to the US Senate Armed Services Committee on May 4, three weeks before the fighting broke out in Marawi.
Since the Marawi crisis, President Duterte has shifted his stance, from harshly criticizing America’s wars of aggression, to meekly accepting “technical assistance” from the US military intelligence. Early in his term last year, the President threatened to revoke the Visiting Forces Agreement or VFA, and said he want the remaining US troops under the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P) out of the country.
Reyes said Duterte now seems to be falling into the trap set by the US, which exploits armed conflicts to justify military presence in different parts of the world.
“He will expose himself as the biggest US puppet in Asia if he allows the US to carry out airstrikes in Mindanao,” Reyes said.
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate called the proposed airstrikes a “US interventionist plan” and warned that these will “signal the commission of blatant human rights violations with impunity by faceless and nameless US officials and troops safely ensconced in far-away military base.”
Progressive groups have said that the continued presence of US troops in the country failed to wipe out the bandit Abu Sayyaff, which, like the ISIS, was a creation of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
“The US cannot be expected to be effective against ISIS as it was the US itself which caused the creation of ISIS. In the same way, the US was not effective against the Abu Sayyaff despite being in Mindanao for 15 years,” Reyes said.
The Philippines has three defense pacts with the US: the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), which says the two countries aim to strengthen “collective defense for the preservation of peace and security.” The Senate-ratified Visiting Forces Agreement or VFA allows rotational presence of US troops, while the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement or Edca allows US troops’ basing in “agreed locations.”
The Bayan leader said such a US-led military operation in Mindanao may be announced in time when US President Trump visits the country in November for the ASEAN meet.
In April 2014, Philippines and US officials signed Edca in time for the visit of then US President Barack Obama.