Amirah Ali Lidasan, a Moro activist with the civil society groups SuaraBangsamoro (Voice of the Bangsamoro) and Initiatives for Peace in Mindanao, the Philippines, said the implementation of Washington’s so-called "war on terror” paved the way for the US military presence in the Philippines which has so far victimized numerous innocent people in Mindanao.
"The war on terror provided an opportunity for greater US military involvement in the Philippines,” Ali Lidasan told Iran’s Sobh-e Sadegh weekly.
She added, "…recent events such as the implementation of the US "war on terror” has victimized numerous Moro people in Mindanao. In 2002, they turned the Moro areas in Mindanao into a war zone, deploying more than 6,000 troops on a "rotational basis” in Western and Central Mindanao to administer military exercises called the Balikatan Exercise (Shoulder to Shoulder military exercise). One of their congressman even called Mindanao as the second front in the war on terror, next to Afghanistan.”
Following is the full text of the interview.
Q: In early September, US President Barack Obama canceled a planned meeting with his Filipino counterpart Rodrigo Duterte after the latter insulted him with vulgar language. The two leaders were scheduled to meet on the sidelines of the 28th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Vientiane, the capital of Laos. However, hours later, a US spokesman announced the cancellation of the meeting after Duterte lashed out at Obama for wading into his campaign against drugs. Why did Duterte use vulgar term to describe him? What is behind the diplomatic row?
A: US President Barrack Obama recently issued comments against Duterte on his campaign against drug war, citing more than 1,000 victims of extra-judicial killing from drug users, pushers and druglords. Most of the killings were perpetrated by elements of the police force, others were from vigilante killings.
Duterte spoke back, saying that Obama does not have the right to criticize others while not being able to clean his own backyard, citing victims of US government's war on drug and war on terror.
President Duterte also mentioned the historical injustice to the Moro people (Muslim natives in Mindanao) during American colonial occupation in the 1900s, one of which is the killing of more than 1,000 Moro men, women and children known as the Bud Dajo Massacre. He also cited several incidents in Philippines history and world history in which the US government had the hand in the killing of people. Duterte said that in these incidents, not once have the US government apologized to the victims, the families of the victims or to nations that they have aggrieved.
During the American colonial period in the 1900, American troops in the Philippines numbered around 40,000, but by 1902 this number had risen to 126,000 for the "pacification campaign” of the US government against the Filipino natives. First was the Balanggiga massacre - On September 28, 1901 the residents of the small village of Balangiga (located in the Samar Province) attacked a American military garrison leaving US soldiers killed and 150 residents killed by the US soldiers. The American colonial government retaliated by killing and destroying houses that between October and November 1901 soldiers burned 255 houses and killed 39 people, while scholars estimated 8,344 people perished between January and April 1902.
The battles of Bud Dajo in March 5, 1906 and Bud Bagsak in 1913 in Jolo, Sulu – part of the American colonial government "pacification campaign” against the Sultanate of Sulu in 1900s.
Actually, President Duterte need not look that far, recent events such as the implementation of the US "war on terror” has victimized numerous Moro people in Mindanao. In 2002, they turned the Moro areas in Mindanao into a war zone, deploying more than 6,000 troops on a "rotational basis” in Western and Central Mindanao to administer military exercises called the Balikatan Exercise (Shoulder to Shoulder military exercise). One of their congressman even called Mindanao as the second front in the war on terror, next to Afghanistan.
During military exercises, there were reports of misguided missiles that bombed civilian communities, wounding residents and destroying their houses. Fishermen who were massacred because of the wrong information given by their drones. There were reports of US soldiers participating and even in direct command of combat operations in pursuit of the local terrorist Abu Sayyaf group. These operations have killed and maimed innocent civilians, openly fired and killed a pregnant mother and a child, destroyed houses and arrested innocent civilians.
Q: Is President Duterte principally an anti-US figure?
A: I don't think that President Duterte is anti-USA but he is critical of US government's political and intervention in the Philippine state of affairs. That has been his stand as a local mayor of Davao City during the "war on terror,” Davao being one of the hub of Muslims in Mindanao was also considered by the US government for deployment of US soldiers in Mindanao. Duterte however refused saying that US troops presence in his area will not help in the unity of his city which has a diverse population of Muslims, Christians, and natives called Lumads.
He is more critical when an incident happened in Davao City in 2002, when an American CIA who posed as tourist/treasure hunter, Michael Meiring, accidentally bombed his room, wounding him and destroying his room at the Durian Hotel in Davao. He got mad when he learned that an FBI team took Meiring prior to being interviewed by local police or even Duterte himself.
Then several bombing incidents happened in Davao City, similar to the recent bombing in Roxas street last September 2. When asked about his knowledge of the perpetrators, Duterte, through one of his cabinet member, considered a "foreign power” as one of those who might be behind the bombings. In our history in Mindanao, the US government through its troops are the only "foreign power” that has a physical presence in the area and has an active involvement through military exercises and deployment of non-uniformed personnel and spies.
Q: Later, Duterte denied insulting Obama. He said his
remarks were not directed at Obama but at the US State Department, which has
raised concerns over potential human rights violations in Duterte’s anti-crime
campaign. "I got really angry about these threats over this human rights issue.
This is the fault of the crazy people in the State Department,” he said.
Duterte said he had clarified his comments to Obama when they met in Laos at
the ASEAN summit. What is your take on this?
A: I think diplomatically he has to consider the repercussions of his actions, the response of the US government might not be directed to him but to his people. Just like what happened in the Davao bombing, many people believe that the bombing was directed at Duterte as a form of humiliation – it was timed when he was in Davao and supposedly that was the time that Davao is in its security height to protect the president yet perpetrators were able to bomb their area.
Q: As you know, the US dispatched some 1,200 special
forces to Mindanao in 2002 for what it called training and advising Philippine
military units fighting local militants. The program was discontinued in 2015,
but a number of US soldiers remain there. What do Filipinos think of US
military presence in their country?
A: We are critical of the US military intervention and their political intervention in our country. We have formed organizations that has criticized and campaign against US bases in the country. The successful vote of Philippine Senate against the US bases in the Philippines was due to a large campaign by the people who are anti-US intervention, anti-bases and anti-nuclear war.
This was continued throughout the decade where the succeeding presidents after Cory Aquino tried to bring back US bases through numerous executive agreements. In the implementation of war on terror, we pushed far in 2002 by holding international fact-finding missions in the areas where US soldiers were commanding and participating in combat operations. We held several protest rallies in front of the US embassies, especially when the US State Department released a list of foreign terrorist organization and included revolutionary groups such as the New People's Army (NPA) which was having a peace talks then with the Philippine government.
The US war machine works closely with Philippine security forces. The United States has operated military bases in the Philippines ever since it became independent. However, in 1991, the Philippine Senate voted to kick out the US bases. A few years later, the US and Philippines signed the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) - put in effect in 1999 - which allows for joint military exercises between US and Philippine militaries. With territorial disputes intensifying in the South China Sea and the United States shifting its military power to the Asia-Pacific region to counter China, the US and Philippines are continuing to tighten their military cooperation. In 2014, the United States and Philippines signed the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), a 10-year pact that gives US military personnel greater access to certain Philippine military bases.
The war on terror provided an opportunity for greater US military involvement in the Philippines. After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Philippines joined the United States in its fight against "terrorism." According to Lidasan, "9/11 came and this war on terror was so expansive that because there's a Muslim population in the Philippines, they've [the US] already mapped us out and called us ... the 'second front' of the war on terror. Even though we are not part of the Afghanistan war, we do not have weapons of mass destruction, but because we are their [the United States'] former colony, we are the ones that they can control there. And our government is so complicit."
The United States established a counterterrorism task force composed of special operations forces to assist Philippine security forces in fighting Islamic militants, particularly in Mindanao. At its height, the force had 500 to 600 US commandos working with Philippine forces. The United States' main target is the Islamic militant group Abu Sayyaf. In 2012, a US drone strike targeting Abu Sayyaf and another militant group called Jemaah Islamiyah killed 15 people in the Philippine island of Jojo. Even though the task force officially ended, US special operations forces are still advising Philippine security forces, and US counterterrorism missions will most likely continue in the Philippines.