U.S. Troops in Philippines

Taking the Unjust War to the Sulu Sea

Revolutionary Worker #1136, January 27, 2002, posted at http://rwor.org

"If we have to go into 15 more countries, we ought to do it."

Donald Rumsfeld, U.S. Secretary
of Defense, January 16, 2002

''You have 60 countries in the world with a terrorist problem. That's two-thirds of the world....We're prepared to go every step of the way, as needed.''

Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo
supporting the U.S. "war on terrorism," Oct. 1, 2001

U.S. troops have landed choppers on the mountainous jungle island of Basilan and Mindanao in the southern islands of the Philippines around the Sulu Sea. Within weeks, this will be the largest insertion of U.S. troops since the invasion of Afghanistan. And it marks the start of "Phase 2" of the new U.S. war--bringing U.S. troops into a war zone 3,000 miles from the previous battlefields in central Asia.

The main force of U.S. troops is starting to arrive. At least 600 U.S. troops are expected to be based there within a month--including 160 Green Beret commandos, combat helicopters and C-130 supply aircraft. In a separate operation, about 35 U.S. Special Forces commandos reportedly started working with Filipino troops at Fort Magsaysay in the northern Philippines.

This will be the biggest concentration of U.S. forces on Philippine soil since the withdrawal of U.S. military bases there in 1992.

The Philippines is a country of thousands of islands in the western Pacific that has been exploited and repeatedly invaded by the U.S. for more than a hundred years. Its people have a history of powerful resistance to this domination. And there is today a deeply rooted revolutionary Maoist people's war being waged in these islands, led by the Communist Party of the Philippines.

Parts of the Philippines have remained outside the control of the corrupt central government in Manila. The Philippine government and its U.S. backers have long wanted to find a way to suppress resistance, retake rebel base areas and establish far more stable conditions for exploiting the people.

This new U.S. invasion force has arrived flying the banners of a "war against terrorism"--but it represents a dangerous and intolerable escalation of an unjust war aimed at the masses of people.

Lies about a First Step

"They will be here to train, but not go to the front lines."

Gen. Diomedio Villanueva,
Philippines armed forces chief

"We have agreed that we will listen to U.S. experts and their advice."

Philippines President Gloria
Macapagal Arroyo

This new U.S. operation comes wrapped in frantic denials from the Philippine government--and a cloud of high secrecy from the U.S. Pentagon.

The Philippine Constitution forbids inviting foreign troops to wage war in the country--and so the government insists that the U.S. soldiers will not be waging war. Philippine generals and government spokespeople claim these U.S. troops have come for a routine "joint training exercise" called "Balikatan" ("Shouldering the Load Together")--to teach "jungle warfare," spying techniques, night-flying and psychological operations to Philippine troops.

However, this so-called "training exercise" is taking place directly in a combat zone where the Philippine army has long waged war against the Moro people (called the "Bangsamoro")--the Muslim inhabitants of these southern islands.

U.S. commandos are going to be divided up--and assigned as advisors to larger Philippine units. But meanwhile, Philippine government figures insist that U.S. troops will not command those Philippine troops in combat. One government spokesman even claimed that the "training exercise" had nothing to do with the military operations that 5,000 Philippine troops are conducting--at the same time on the same islands!

But everyone can see that these U.S. deployments are escalations in a counterinsurgency war. U.S. military sources told CNN that their official orders for this operation allow U.S. troops to go armed with Philippine forces to battle areas.

This U.S. deployment is open-ended--and officially supposed to last at least "six months to a year." An editorial in the Philippine Inquirer noted: "Deployment of forces for such duration mocks the word 'exercises' and colors them as actual military combat operations."

The number of U.S. troops is open-ended too. The New York Times (Jan. 16) reported that "a senior military official said the number of American forces could increase, depending on how the campaign progresses."

Parallel to the arrival of troops is a massive flow of sophisticated new U.S. weapons and military equipment to the Philippine army--part of a $4.2 billion "security assistance package" for the Philippines approved last fall.

In a separate development, the Philippine armed forces will also receive eight Huey combat helicopters equipped for night flying. Philippine Brig. Gen. Edilberto Adan said that a major goal for the coming period would be to increase "our ability to move troops between the islands.''

It is possible that the U.S. does not intend to insert its troops directly into battle. Using local "proxy" troops for the ground-based fighting and dying has been their preferred method in recent combat--like in Afghanistan. But in any case, the U.S. is intervening in the counterinsurgency in the Philippines, working to harden the reactionary Philippine army and preparing the build-up for some huge new offensive--events which will deeply affect the future of the people of the Philippines.

U.S. troops have landed to help wage and intensify an unjust war of pacification--to strengthen U.S. control over the Philippines and strengthen the stability and military power of the oppressive central Philippine government.

Defense of Domination

"The United States has a long relationship with the Philippines."

Donald Rumsfeld, January 2002

"The insurgents and all others must recognize the military occupation and authority of the United States."

U.S. President William McKinley's
order to conquer the Philippines, 1898

"I want no prisoners. I wish you to kill and burn, the more you kill and burn the better you will please me."

U.S. Brig. Gen. Jacob H. Smith
ordering his troops to massacre everyone
over ten on Samar Island, Dec. 1901

"I shall return."

General Douglas MacArthur announcing
U.S. plans to reconquer Philippines
during World War 2

"If the American presence in Asia were removed...our ability to affect the course of events would be constrained, our markets and our interests would be jeopardized."

U.S. Department of Defense report, 1995

The Philippines is a rich country where people live with bitter poverty. U.S. conquests, economic domination and support for oppressive local governments have marked every aspect of Philippine life.

The plantations growing coconuts, sugar, pineapple and other crops produce wealth for international agribusiness capitalists--while keeping the people in misery, often without education, medical care, decent wages or land of their own. The dense rain forests of these islands are being stripped of their hardwoods, providing profits for timber companies and leaving the land ruined and the waterways strangling on silt.

The cities of this country are filled with sweatshops where workers produce electronics, clothes and other goods for starvation wages. Around U.S. bases, generations of Filipino women were pressed into prostitution and thousands are now dying there of AIDS. In Filipino prisons, countless liberation fighters and resisters have been locked up and tortured for resisting U.S. domination and local puppets.

The U.S. seized the Philippines as a colony in 1898. And even after the country got formal "independence" in 1946, the U.S. used the Philippines to "project" U.S. military power into east Asia. The Philippines was where fleets of U.S. bombers loaded bombs to pound Vietnam during the '60s and '70s.

In 1991, the U.S. shut down its massive Philippine facilities at Clark Air Force Base and Subic Bay Naval Base. But U.S. domination continued. A network of treaties imposed on the Philippines gave the U.S. imperialists continuing permission to bring its forces into these islands--the Military Assistance Pact, Mutual Defense Treaty, the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the prospective Mutual Logistical Support Agreement.

And now, the world can see what this all this means: the U.S. insists on the imperialist right to send in its troops to threaten the people and prop up the government.

Right now, the U.S.-Philippine army offensive is concentrated in the Mindanao region--where the government has faced long-standing resistance from the Moro people and where the existence of the Abu Sayyaf group allows them to portray this operation as a response to Sept. 11.

Like the rest of the Philippines, this region is important to the U.S. imperialists for larger economic and strategic reasons. At least 19 major corporations operate in the Muslim areas of Basilan, Sulu and Maguindanao. These are islands rich in minerals and hard wood. Philippine government spokespeople constantly say that armed movements obstruct the "economic development" of the southern areas--by which they mean the capitalist exploitation of labor and natural resources.

The shallow waters of the Sulu Sea are famous for pearls and turtles. But who is surprised to learn that U.S. corporations have their eye on oil and natural gas there? Not long ago, the Unocal oil corporation announced (April 10, 2000) that they would be conducting drilling in the Sulu Sea on behalf of an oil and gas exploration consortium led by Arco Philippines (Sulu), Inc.

On a strategic scale, this whole region, known as BIMP-EAGA ("Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines--East Asian Growth Area") in imperialist thinktanks, is seen as an important strategic area for expanding capitalist exploitation--all of which leads the U.S. ruling class to want military pacification of the people.

Resistance and the days to come

"People here say President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is using the American-led war on terrorism as a pretext to gain hardware for her own army, which has failed to quell the insurgency. The danger, according to some, is that the involvement of American troops could aggravate tensions....''

New York Times, November 4

``All it will take is one bullet fired by an American soldier that would kill a Filipino civilian, such as what happened in Afghanistan, and the political stability of the country will be adversely affected.''

Philippine Senator Rodolfo Biazon,
a former armed forces chief

The arrival of U.S. troops is giving rise to deep unrest in the Philippines--including mass protests against the intervention. Many forces within the Philippine ruling class have loudly expressed opposition to U.S. involvement--because they fear the anti-U.S. resistance could quickly grow out of control, threatening an already weak government and the whole rotten system of semi-colonial and semi-feudal oppression in the Philippines.

Targets: Today and Tomorrow

"We are interested in a lot more than al-Qaeda."

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld,
January 16, 2002

Officially, of course, these U.S. deployments are part of a "global war on terrorism." The U.S. officially says that it is targeting a local Islamist group, Abu Sayyaf, which reportedly has a few hundred fighters concentrated on two islands off the west coast of Mindanao. This group holds some American missionaries hostage--and is accused of "links" to al Qaida.

As usual, the U.S. government has made many sweeping charges, while presenting little evidence. The New York Times wrote (Nov. 4, 2001): "The suggestion that Abu Sayyaf is a Philippine branch of Al Qaeda strikes people in Mindanao as faintly bizarre."

In fact, Abu Sayyaf is one small, marginal, reactionary armed group in a country where the government faces far larger armed challenges--both from separatist movements among the Moro people of the Mindanao region and from the Maoist fighters of the New People's Army (NPA), led by the Communist Party of the Philippines. The Philippine government's National Security Council has been complaining about the massive growth of various forms of armed resistance--especially since 1995, when the Filipino people were battered by capitalism's "Asian crisis."

Jose Maria Sison, the chief political consultant of the revolutionary National Democratic Front, wrote in a January 12 statement:

"The Abu Sayyaf group in the Philippines is like the Osama bin Laden group in one sense. It is a U.S. creation that has run out of U.S. control. It was created by agents of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), in collaboration with Filipino CIA assets (including Generals Alexander Aguirre and Mariano Ruiz), in order to undermine the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) before this capitulated to the Manila government in 1996.

"After the MNLF capitulation, the CIA and the Manila puppet government deemed the Abu Sayyaf group useless and left it to its own devices. The group turned to kidnapping for ransom, victimizing civilians, including local priests, public school teachers and pupils as well as foreign tourists.

"Now, the U.S. and their Filipino puppets in power are finding the Abu Sayyaf useful again for their own purposes. They are now using the Abu Sayyaf group as a pretext for the intervention of U.S. military advisors, trainers and combat troops and the increase of U.S. military supplies to the Manila puppet government in the name of combating terrorism.

"The grand-scale terrorism of U.S. imperialism is trying to use the small-scale terrorism of the Abu Sayyaf group as the excuse for a war of intervention and possibly a war of aggression against the people of the Philippines (including the Bangsamoro) and their revolutionary forces fighting for national liberation and democracy."

The population in this Mindanao region in southern Philippines is predominantly Muslim--about 5 million Bangsamoro within the larger Filipino population of 76 million. It is among the very poorest regions of this poor country. The people here have suffered terribly from the theft of their lands and the bullets of the army. And during the last hundred years, they have fiercely fought invaders from Spain and the U.S. and raised powerful resistance to control by the Manila government.

The landing of U.S. troops in this region is a clear threat to the Moro people and their long struggle for justice and self-determination.

At the same time, there is no reason to assume that the U.S. intervention will remain limited to targeting forces only in this one region of the Philippines or forces that are Islamic.

The U.S. State Department has placed the Maoist New People's Army on its official list of "terrorist" organizations--in a move that is troubling, outrageously unjustified and filled with calculated threat. The hopes of the people of the Philippines--for liberation and justice--ride on the shoulders of those fighting along the path of Maoist people's war. It is extremely important that people all over the world not allow the U.S. to wage war against these fighters using "war on terrorism" as a false excuse.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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