BALIKATAN 2008 RAISES FEARS OF RAPES, OTHER ATROCITIES BY U.S. TROOPS
This year’s RP-U.S. Balikatan military “exercises” in Sulu, Basilan, Lanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur, and North Cotabato start just shortly after two sexual assaults by U.S. troops in Okinawa, Japan –- in which one of the victims was a Filipina. They also come less than three years after a Filipina was raped by U.S. troops participating in joint military “exercises” in Subic, Zambales.
BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
Vol. VIII, No. 4, February 24-March 1, 2008
The arrival of U.S. troops in several Mindanao provinces and in Sulu for the 2008 Balikatan military “exercises” has triggered fears of rapes and other atrocities by U.S. soldiers against Filipinos.
This year’s RP-U.S. Balikatan military “exercises” in Sulu, Basilan, Lanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur, and North Cotabato started just shortly after two sexual assaults by U.S. troops in Okinawa, Japan –- in which one of the victims was a Filipina. They also come less than three years after a Filipina was raped by U.S. troops participating in joint military “exercises” in Subic, Zambales.
Last week, the Kyodo News Agency repoted that the U.S. military had taken into custody earlier this month a U.S. soldier who sexually assaulted a Filipina in Okinawa, where the U.S. government maintains a military base.
Also last week, U.S. Marine soldier Tyrone Hadnott, 38, was arrested for allegedly raping a 14-year-old girl also in Okinawa. This incident is reminiscent of the rape of a 12-year-old girl by a U.S. solider also in Okinawa in 1995 – an incident that sparked a wave of protests that threatened to banish U.S. troops from the island.
In October last year, four U.S. soldiers were also arrested in Okinawa for allegedly raping a young woman. They are being investigated and could face court martial proceedings.
In the Philippines, L/Cpl Daniel Smith of the U.S. Marines was convicted in December 2006 for raping a young woman in Subic in November 2005. Judge Benjamin Pozon of the Makati City Regional Trial Court ordered him detained at the Makati City Jail, but he was secretly transferred to the U.S. Embassy in Manila at the behest of the U.S. government, which invoked the RP-U.S. Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). His case is still on appeal.
Mindanao: Balikatan 2008
U.S. and Philippine troops began this year’s Balikatan military “exercises” on Feb. 19 amid protest actions all over Mindanao. This year’s joint military “exercises are scheduled to last until March 3.
In a Feb. 14 statement, the Sisters’ Association of Mindanao (SAMIN) asked, “Will U.S. troops participate in actual military operations against our people as they did in other places? Will there be another Nicole, and will our women and children again be made ‘objects’ for the U.S. soldiers’ rest and recreation?”
In the Lanao provinces, a broad multi-sectoral alliance has been formed to oppose the Balikatan military “exercises.” The alliance, called RACABE (Ranao Crescent Against Balikatan Exercises), stressed in a statement:
“The presence of U.S. troops in Lanao will be a serious threat to the ongoing peace process in Mindanao since the U.S. troops...help organize counterinsurgency groups.... On the one hand, it will awaken painful memories of the past American invasions of the Ranao areas such as the massacres in Padang Karbala of Bayang, Lanao del Sur (during the first decade of the 20th century) that almost wiped out all the able-bodied men in the said municipality except for seven who were either minors or infirm, in Tugaya, Lanao del Sur and Pantar, Lanao del Norte that may trigger violent retaliatory actions against U.S. troops.”
Sittie Rajabia Sundang, secretary-general of the Kawagib Moro Human Rights organization, cited in a Feb. 19 press statement the following atrocities by U.S. troops against civilians since the first Balikatan military “exercises” were held in Basilan in 2002:
· Farmer Buyung-Buyung Isnijal was shot by an American soldier identified by witnesses as Sgt. Reggie Lane, who was accused of participating in a military operation on July 27, 2002 in Tuburan, Basilan.
· In Zamboanga, U.S. soldiers accidentally fired at civilians in the community while on their testing missions. One case was the shooting and wounding of Arsid Baharun in Zamboanga City while soldiers were conducting a marksmanship practice in 2004.
· In August 2004, Sardiya Abu Calderon, 54, died of a heart attack when a helicopter carrying two U.S. soldiers landed on their farm during the clearing operation conducted by U.S. and Philippine troops in August 2004.
· In September 2006, shrapnels from a misfired bomb hit the back of a 50-year-old Bizma Juhan in Indanan, Sulu.
· In Zamboanga City, passengers of a tricycle complained in a radio station about U.S. soldiers who accidentally bumped the tricycle they were riding in Calarian village on Dec. 15, 2007. Instead of assisting the victims, U.S. soldiers alighted from their vehicle brandishing high-powered guns.
· On Feb. 4, 2008, one of the survivors of the Maimbung, Sulu massacre Rawina Wahid revealed that when the soldiers who attacked their village brought her and the body of her husband, Pfc. Ibnul Wahid, into a Navy boat she saw four U.S. soldiers inside.
U.S. troops in RP: 2002-present
The first RP-U.S. Balikatan military “exercises” were held in 2002 in Basilan, then known as a stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), which, according to different sources, was formed by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to justify the intensive military operations against Moro communities and the continuing presence of U.S. troops in the region.
As then Col. David Maxwell wrote in an article for the Military Review in 2004, the Balikatan “exercises” in Basilan were a guise for counter-“terrorist” operations under the auspices of Operation Enduring Freedom-Philippines.
Operation Enduring Freedom is the official name given to the U.S. government’s military response to the terrorist attack of Sept. 11, 2001 in New York City. It entails a series of anti-“terrorism” activities in Afghanistan, the Philippines, the Horn of Africa, Trans-Sahara, and Pakinsi Gorge.
“The mission in Basilan was to conduct unconventional warfare operations in the Southern Philippines through, by, and with the AFP to help the Philippine government separate the population from and to destroy terrorist organizations,” Maxwell, who was the commander of the U.S. troops deployed for Balikatan 2002, wrote. “The plan’s intent was to provide all SF (Special Forces) elements in Basilan with unifying guidance that would help harmonize counterterrorist and counterinsurgency operations in the Southern Philippines with initial focus on Basilan.”
Maxwell included among the Special Forces’ tasks “supporting operations by the AFP ‘strike force’ (LRC or Light Reaction Company)” in their areas of responsibility.
This year’s Balikatan military “exercises” cover Basilan, the Lanao provinces, Sulu, and North Cotabato.
North Cotabato is one of the provinces straddled by the oil-rich Liguasan Marsh, together with Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat. Basilan, the Lanao provinces, and North Cotabato are strongholds of the revolutionary Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), whose peace talks with the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) are currently at a standstill over ancestral domain issues.
Sulu is also currently the site of oil exploration operations involving several foreign companies including a U.S. corporation.
In 2005, the Department of Energy (DoE) awarded Service Contract 56 to Australia’s BHP Billiton Petroleum PTY Ltd., Amerada Hess Ltd., Unocal Sulu Ltd., and Sandakan Oil II, LCC. Amerada Hess Ltd. is a unit of Hess Ltd., a U.S.-based oil and gas exploration company.
Based on a 2005 news item published by the Philippine Information Agency (PIA), Service Contract 56 covers some 8,620 hectares offshore Sulu Sea, an area described as “one of the most prospective areas for oil and gas exploration as indicated by the previous drilling activities conducted in the area.”
These provinces are covered by this year’s Balikatan military “exercises,” which have raised among other fears the possibility of other women suffering the plight of “Nicole” (the court-assigned name for the Subic rape victim of 2005) -– not an unjustified fear considering the latest series of rapes by U.S. troops stationed in Okinawa. Bulatlat