US troops’ combat role in RP revealed
By Nikko Dizon
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 02:23:00 08/27/2009
MANILA, Philippines-The woman who blew the whistle on a fund mess involving the RP-US Balikatan exercises said American soldiers were purportedly “embedded” with Filipino troops in combat situations in Mindanao, and that the United States had taken part in the “planning of combat operations” against terrorist and Moro targets.
With nuns from the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines serving as her bodyguards, retired Navy Lt. Nancy Gadian Wednesday faced the media in a press conference organized by the militant Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan).
Copies of her affidavit detailing her observations while stationed in Mindanao and affirming her belief that US troops were based permanently in the country were distributed at the press conference.
Gadian’s lawyer, Evalyn Ursua, said the affidavit would be submitted to the Senate on Thursday. Gadian has expressed willingness to testify at the joint congressional hearing on the continued stay of American troops in the country.
“The [US] soldiers who are deployed in Mindanao are part of the Special Operations Command. This is a unit of highly capable and technically skilled individuals. They will not be deployed here if they are not combat-ready,” Gadian said.
She admitted that she had no personal knowledge on the US soldiers’ purported involvement in actual warfare, but said in her affidavit that Filipino soldiers had confirmed to her “that US troops are embedded in Philippine troops who are engaged in actual combat in Mindanao.”
She also said in her affidavit that she had attended “a couple of situation briefings” where members of the US Special Operations Command gave the Philippine military “intelligence reports on the location of the Abu Sayyaf and secessionist groups in Mindanao.”
Asked to comment, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesperson Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner Jr. said Gadian would have to prove her claims in the “proper court.”
At press time, the US Embassy had yet to respond to a text message seeking comment, and the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Commission on the Visiting Forces Agreement had yet to issue a statement.
Violation of Constitution
At the press conference, Gadian asserted that the US military had taken part in the planning of Philippine combat operations.
Aided by their “highly sophisticated equipment, they give information to the AFP counterpart,” she said.
“They have special intelligence equipment and in many instances that I was in the briefings in the conference room, the US counterpart would say where … the enemies are, either Abu Sayyaf or Muslim secessionist,” Gadian said.
“In [the Balikatan] 2002-1, the focus was on the Abu Sayyaf, and we know that they had a role in the neutralization of high-ranking personalities of the Abu Sayyaf,” she said.
Ursua said the participation of US troops in combat planning or their providing intelligence information was a violation of the 1987 Constitution.
“The most fundamental [provision] is national sovereignty … and our Constitution prohibits the presence of US troops. What Ms Gadian is saying is, for the past seven years their presence in the Philippines has been permanent and continuous,” the lawyer said.
She added: “The intelligence [operations], how do they justify that? That is part of the prohibition. They are allowed to use intelligence equipment all over, wherever they want. How do you justify that legally?”
The US military has also built permanent and temporary structures in several AFP camps in Mindanao, Gadian said.
These structures are often “off limits” to AFP personnel, and Filipino soldiers, including generals and other ranking officials, can enter only upon invitation and are limited to certain areas, she said.
In her affidavit, Gadian explained that the permanent structures “are those with fixed foundations made of concrete and cannot be easily removed.”
She said that since 2002, the Americans had temporary, as well as two permanent, structures in Camp Basilio Navarro, the headquarters of the AFP Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom) in Calarian, Zamboanga City.
The headquarters of the US Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P) is also at Camp Navarro.
Said Gadian in her affidavit: “The American camp in Camp Navarro consists of two permanent structures, built by the Americans, located near the office of the Headquarters Service Group of the [Wesmincom].
“The two permanent structures are fenced off by barbed wires and guarded by US Marines. Filipinos have no access to those two structures except that on occasions, a few Filipino officers are invited inside the bigger structure [but still on a limited access] which has the name of the [JSOTF-P].”
4 AFP camps
Gadian said the Americans had also built and maintained temporary and permanent structures in the Edwin Andrews Air Base for their personnel and equipment, including tanks and communication facilities.
“This area is fenced and secured by Filipinos and Americans hired by Dyn Corp., an American private military contractor. Filipinos have no access to this area,” she said.
According to Gadian, the Americans have access to the air base’s airstrip, and their planes come and go almost every other day. Their aircraft-C-12, C-130 and Chinook-are parked at the base operations center.
Gadian named the four AFP camps where the US troops maintain “temporary structures”-Camp Malagutay in Barangay Malagutay, Zamboanga City, the training camp of the Philippine Army; the Philippine Naval Station in Batu-Bato, Panglima Sugala, Tawi-Tawi; the Naval Forces Wesmincom in Lower Calarian in Camp Navarro; and Camp General Bautista in Busbus, Jolo, Sulu.
Wood, GI sheets
In Camp Malagutay, the Americans’ office is a structure made of wood and GI sheets with a container van beside it, Gadian said.
It occupies 200-300 square meters of land, fenced off and “generally not accessible to Filipinos,” but the Americans have access to the Philippine Army’s training facilities, she said.
Gadian said she first saw the temporary structure, also made of wood and GI sheets, in the Philippine Naval Station in 2004.
Staffed by seven US Navy personnel, the structure occupies some 200 sq m and houses advanced satellite communication equipment, she said. Rubber boats and land vehicles are parked in the vicinity.
Gadian said the Americans had been operating their structure at the Naval Forces in Wesmincom since 2002.
In Camp General Bautista, they have temporary structures occupying some 1,000 sq m that house personnel of the US Special Operations Command Pacific “365 days a year,” Gadian said in her affidavit.
“In all, the US troops stationed inside Camp Navarro and other parts of Mindanao total about 500 at each particular time, on a rotating basis of three months each. These troops are stationed in Mindanao even without any Balikatan exercises going on,” she said.
At the press conference, Gadian said she and mostly AFP junior officers and enlisted personnel had wondered about the US structures in the Philippines, as well as the US warships (called “frigates”) seen within the country’s “exclusive economic zone.”
She said that on a superior’s instructions, some Filipino soldiers were once brought to a warship where they even sold bottles of a popular local rum for $3 each to the US troops.
In her affidavit, she explained that frigates were for “war and equipped with missiles,” and were utilized as a “fleet in being” or a show of force.
Gadian lamented at the press conference that Filipino soldiers had gained very little benefits from the RP-US Balikatan exercises.
At most, she said, Filipino soldiers got a “free ride” in state-of-the-art US aircraft.
As for the humanitarian missions, Gadian said that while it was true that US troops had built school buildings and roads for Filipinos, these were infrastructure that the Philippine government should provide its constituents.
She pointed out that Filipino women were being forced into prostitution by the continued US presence in Mindanao.
Gadian also denounced the arrogance with which US troops treated Filipino soldiers like herself.
She recalled an American soldier signaling to her using his fingers instead of calling her by her name. She said she was incensed and told him: “Don’t treat me like a dog. This is our country.”