To mark the 17th year of the the Visiting Forces Agreement and properly end the 6-week Lakbay Lumad USA*, the indigenous peoples (IP) leaders from the Philippines joined the migrant workers and human rights advocates in the United States in a protest in New York City against the continued US military intervention in the Philippines. The KATRIBU Kalipunan ng Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas, together with its allied organizations covering more than 600 IP communities in the Philippines, also calls on the President-elect Rodrigo Duterte to junk all the unequal military agreements, end the militarization of the indigenous communities, and to give justice to all victims of state repression and US intervention.
The Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) was signed by the Government of the Philippines and the United States of America in February 1998 and unilaterally ratified by the Philippine Senate on May 27, 1999. The VFA essentially grants extraterritorial rights to US forces in any part of the country without any limitations on their number or duration of stay in so-called military training exercises in the country. This is contrary to the limits set by the Philippine constitution on the presence of foreign military troops in Philippine territory, and the spirit of the 1991 termination by the Philippine Senate of the RP-US Military Bases Agreement and to the demand of the strong anti-US bases and national sovereignty movement during that time.
In April 2014, the BS Aquino Regime slyly collaborated the US government by entering into an executive agreement on the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA). The EDCA that strengthens the VFA practically justifies the ‘permanent basing’ of US military troops and bases in the Philippines. These military agreements, which further increase the US military intervention in the country, are tied to numerous documented incidents of human rights violations committed by US military personnel in the Philippines that remain unprosecuted.
In March 2016, the BS Aquino regime in line with the EDCA allowed the US military to use five Philippine military bases where US troops, warships and supplies can be stationed. Two out of the five bases are within the ancestral territories of Ayta, Agta and Igorot in Pampanga and Nueva Ecija, and another two are adjacent to IP communities in Palawan and Cagayan de Oro.
These agreements allow the indefinite and permanent presence of more than 600 US Special Operations forces in Mindanao, annual war games involving thousands of US troops and within ancestral territories, and unlimited free docking and travel through Philippine land, ports and airspaces.
In the past year, the United States increased its military aid to the Philippines from $50 million to $79 million, under the guise of “assisting” the Philippines in the midst of rising tensions with China. This US military aid is part of theoverall agenda of US imperialism to strengthen its economic and political influence in the Asia-Pacific Region not only against the aggressive China but also its continued control of the Philippine economy.
Increased US military intervention in the country not only involves the de facto establishment of US military bases in the country, but also in their role in the brutal and deceptive counter-insurgency programs. The Philippine armed forces is being trained, armed, and provided with intelligence information for military operations by the US military. A large part of US military aid is used in the implementation of the Oplan Bayanihan of the BS Aquino Regime. The Oplan Bayanihan was developed in the framework of the 2009 US Counter-insurgency Guide.
The Oplan Bayanihan counter-insurgency program has developed a whole-of-nation initiative and IP centric approach, particularly targeting the Lumad communities. Clearly, it not only aims to crush the armed revolutionary movement but also includes legitimate opposition and peoples struggles against destructive project. The Philippine government has set up investment defense forces, formed para-military groups and use the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to protect the interest of big businesses and the foreign capital, and to systematically quell the resistance against land grabbing and the plunder of natural resources. The BS Aquino government deployed 60% of the combat military forces to Mindanao and support at least 26 paramilitary groups in the lumad communities.
The US-guided and supported Oplan Bayanihan has resulted in the intense militarization of indigenous communities and gross human rights violations especially among the Lumad in Mindanao. From July 2010 to April 2016, at least 75 lumad leaders, women and children have been the extra-judicially killed, at least 52 incidents of forced evacuation of communities affecting around 20,000 lumad have occurred, vilification and attacks against lumad schools and organizations continue, and trumped up charges against community leaders and educators were filed. Most of the victims are those actively resist the incursions of destructive projects into their territories that include large-scale mining plantations.
The indigenous peoples hold both the BS Aquino regime and the US government accountable for the gross violation of the their human and collectives rights, and for the continued plunder of the Filipino peoples natural wealth. Continued US military presence and intervention justified by both the VFA and EDCA only allows the United States to maintain the Philippines as its neo-colony – to continue undermining our economy and national sovereignty, retain our country its market and resource base, reduce our territory as their military base and imposing ever-worsening hardship and poverty and violate our peoples rights, including the indigenous peoples.
The indigenous peoples in the Philippines call for the end of US intervention and military aid to the Philippines and abrogate the VFA and EDCA. The indigenous peoples also call on the international community to condemn the human rights violations against indigenous communities of the BS Aquino regime and US government, to be in solidarity with the struggle for justice, rights to ancestral land and self-determination, and to support the Filipino people’s demand to uphold the national sovereignty of the Philippines against US intervention.
Finally, the indigenous peoples call on President-elect Rodrigo Duterte to make the BS Aquino regime accountable for all the human rights violations against the indigenous peoples, and to have the political will to abrogate the VFA, EDCA and end all the unequal military treaties and agreements that the Philippine government has made in the past. To bring about genuine change, Duterte must pursue an independent foreign policy and oppose imperialist plunder and aggression. #
*The Lakbay Lumad USA is a six-week speaking tour in the USA of the indigenous peoples from the Philippines for peace and justice.
Reference: Piya Macliing Malayao, Secretary General, 0917-3631576