Sunday, September 20, 2009

US Troops in the Philippines

Shooting by American troops lawful-military
By Tarra Quismundo
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Posted date: September 20, 2009

THE PHILIPPINE military maintained Saturday that American soldiers acted within the bounds of the law when they fired their machine guns in self-defense following an explosion believed targeted at them at the Jolo pier in Sulu on Monday.

The avowal was in reaction to the claim by the leftist group, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), which said that United States forces, stationed in Mindanao as part of anti-terror operations jointly undertaken with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), were cleared of any liability too quickly while questions on their continued presence here had yet to be settled.

“It is part of their right to defend themselves. They are targets for liquidation or harm by terrorists. It’s normal that they also take precautionary measures to defend themselves,” said Lieutenant Colonel Romeo Brawner Jr., military spokesman.

He said the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), which sets the parameters covering the conduct of soldiers while engaged in training exercises and intelligence or technical assistance in the country, did not bar American troops from carrying firearms.

“They are allowed to carry guns. The VFA only says they cannot engage in combat, but they have the right to defend themselves,” said Brawner, adding that a Philippine investigation found nothing unlawful about the discharge of firearms from US guns.

“We also expect that it is a natural tendency for soldiers when under attack … that the immediate reaction is to seek cover, determine the source of attack and fire back,” Brawner told the Philippine Daily Inquirer when reached by phone Saturday.

Bayan, which had long called for the abrogation of the VFA, expressed concern over the VFA Commission’s speedy resolution of the incident wherein it concluded that the discharge was “a justified response” to a threat.

While US military officials said that their troops fired just a single burst, civilian witnesses said arms were let loose for about 20 minutes and described the US soldiers’ response as an “overreaction.” The fusillade damaged a mosque.

“The presidential VFA Commission seems to be working on damage control. It is amazing that in a matter of 24 hours, they have cleared the US forces from any liability, despite numerous eyewitness accounts,” Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. said in a statement.

“The impression we’re getting is that a coverup is in the works,” he said.

But Brawner said that the investigation went through a process and that local officials took part in it.

Denying an unfair investigation was conducted, Brawner said: “In the first place, in order for a liability to be established, there should be a complaint. But there was no complainant.”

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