Critics Chide Legislators for Denying Charges of US Military Basing in Zambo

ZAMBOANGA CITY – CIVIL society groups have criticized the findings of the congressional fact-finding team who cleared American troops from charges of allegedly building bases in this city and joining Filipino troops in actual combat against Moro rebels.

The Citizens’ Peace Watch (CPW), a nongovernmental organization, has stood pat on its claim that American forces stationed in this city have set up a military base, saying the congressional fact-finding team refused to call what they saw as a “US military base.”

The Alliance for Just and Lasting Peace in the Philippines (AJLPP) branded the congressional oversight committee as “puppet.”

“For an Americans stooge to emphasize that as far as the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) was concerned, there was nothing wrong with the continuous military training in the country, is an outright lap dog attitude,” the AJLPP said.

The CPW has earlier come up with a report stating the violations of the US forces in the south. Their report has served as the basis of the Legislative Oversight Committee on the Visiting Forces Agreement’s (LOVFA) to conduct its own probe recently, but they eventually cleared American troops saying that the CPW’s reports were “unsubstantiated” and merely a “hearsay.”

The CPW questioned the “manner” by which the six-hour-long “inspection” was conducted by the members of the LOVFA.

The group said the members who composed the congressional fact-finding “are known proponents of the VFA, are on record as having defended or supported US military presence in the country.”

“This is like getting friends of a crime suspect to investigate the crime,” the group said in a statement sent to the Senate.

The Congressional subcommittee, who was tasked to investigate the alleged violations of United States troops, was headed by Senator Rodolfo G. Biazon, a former military general, along with representatives in the lower chamber.

The Philippine and US government had entered into a military agreement for joint military exercises in the aftermath of the terrorist attack in New York, and the emergence of home-grown terrorist group in Mindanao.

US forces were reported to have assisted the Filipino troops in tracking down leaders of the Abu-Sayyaf in the strife-torn provinces of Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi. But in recent events, US troops were accused of joining the actual combat operations together with its Filipino military counterpart.

The CPW also criticized that the investigation was hosted by the US and Philippine military officials “who may be the very people responsible for the violations being investigated” by the fact-fining body.

“[It is] like giving a crime suspect the power to dictate what the police can and cannot examine in a crime scene, the inspection gave the organizers the opportunity to stage-manage the inspection, allowing the so-called investigators to see only what those being investigated would have wanted to see.”

“It [also] appears that the LOVFA did not interview a single person whose testimonies and opinions diverged from those of the ones being investigated,” the group added.

The group said regardless of “what are there, however, they are there for a purpose: to support US military operations.”

“US troops are not just slumped on their desks filing logbooks, making coffee, or waiting for five o’clock. US troops are first to declare that they are out there on the battleground – to conduct “humanitarian” operations “to win hearts and minds”, yes, but also to gather intelligence, and to join Filipino troops in their operations, in the thick of the battle.[vii] They are at war,” the group said.

The CPW said they are calling for the formation of an “independent commission composed of people of unquestioned integrity and impartiality” to conduct another fact-finding mission in this city.

“Pending these actions, we reiterate our call for the suspension of the deployments of US military troops to the country. No investigation can be fair and thorough as long as the subjects of the investigation are in a position to change the facts on the ground and to determine what can and cannot be investigated,” the group said.

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