Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Letters to an old comrade: Second installment

Ka Topits,

I hope your illness does not bother you so much as to hinder your ability to read. Old age has the added misfortune of making us vulnerable to a host of health issues which most of us wish should have visited us earlier in our youth when we were stronger and more robust. My doctor has just told me that my blood sugar level is quite high and has prescribed a drug medication I have to take for life, or whatever is left of it, to be exact. Only three weeks ago, I had cataract surgery on my left eye and my vision is now much clearer.

I’ve read recently an article written by E. San Juan Jr., a Filipino academic based in the United States, which suggests that the Philippines could be a “third Vietnam” on account of the current military engagement between our country’s soldiers and U.S. forces against Muslim insurgents in Mindanao.

You probably clearly remember the Vietnam War and the war protest marches we joined in Manila in the late ’60s. I was a young university student in those days while you were already a community organizer for the movement for genuine democracy.

The Philipines was actually the “first Vietnam” when the U.S. decided to colonize us at the end of the Spanish-American War in 1898. As a point of historical fact, we are the United States’ first colony. Instead of allowing us to savour our new-found independence from Spain after the revolution, the U.S. descended with all its might upon the revolutionary Philippine republic and made it a colonial possession.

What the U.S. forces are trying to accomplish now under the auspices of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), signed by the Philippines and the U.S. as a replacement for the much-criticized military bases treaty between the two countries, is exactly the same job it did a century ago. During the U.S. military expeditions in Jolo right after annexing the Philippines as a colony, thousands of Muslim men, women and children were massacred in the 1906 siege of Mt. Dajo and the 1913 rout at Mt. Bagsak, all for the sole purpose of pacifying the islands.

The current U.S. military engagement in Mindanao is an attempt to recapture the towns and villages liberated by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF); it is history repeating itself.

As the number of casualties rise from this government offensive, the magnitude of violence and civilian suffering is continuously being ignored by both the current sitting president in the White House and the newly minted president-elect. According to the BBC and the International Committee of the Red Cross, the full-scale war has resulted in massive evacuation of tens of thousands of refugees and residents, and the killing of civilians by indiscriminate AFP aerial and artillery bombardments. Already, the Red Cross is warning of a potential sectarian ethnic cleansing.

Philippine government officials have also confirmed that U.S. forces have installed their command post in Zamboanga City, inside Camp Navarro of the AFP’s Western Mindanao Command. This post, off-limits to non-US military personnel, is said to be sealed by permanent walls, concertina wires and sandbags, with visible communication facilities such as satellite dishes, antennas, etc. From here, the U.S. forces would launch and direct operations against the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), the MILF, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), or the New People’s Army (NPA). If this is not a carbon copy of US military operations in Vietnam, what else could it be?

President Gloria Arroyo has justified embedding U.S. forces within the Philippine military as necessary in the war against terrorism. The U.S. government considers Jolo, together with Muslim-occupied territories won by the MILF and the MNLF, as the second battlefront in the war against terrorism after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan following 9/11. In exchange for appeasing Washington, Arroyo has obtained $356 million in security-related assistance, the largest military package since the closing of the U.S. bases in 1992.

But this American-led war on terrorists in Mindanao is a mere stratagem to an unjustified war on humanity, against innocent Muslim citizens of the Philippines. The wars waged by the MILF or the MNLF have never been for the purpose of sowing terror in the region. From the beginning of time, we have always known that our Muslim brothers in the south only wanted to be free and independent from the central government in Manila, hitherto the seat of the colonial powers or their subalterns. Their wars have been struggles for independence and liberation, not terroristic activities. This is the main reason why the Muslim-occupied regions of Mindanao have never been pacified or contained since the coming of the Spaniards in the 16th century, and after our country was made a colony by the Americans in 1898.

What is wrong with our country, Ka Topits?

We rescinded the U.S. military bases agreement in 1992 which heralded a milestone in our struggle for independence against U.S. control. Our countrymen were elated that after 100 years of enjoying extraterritorial rights and inflicting abuses and indignities on Filipinos, the U.S. would no longer be around telling us what we can or cannot do. But when our government caved in to the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) in 1998, a larger monster descended on us. This VFA seems to be a much bigger sell-out of Philippine sovereignty.

In addition to having unrestricted freedom of movement, flexibility and manoeuvre, the U.S. forces under the VFA are also allowed in non-traditional threats, a much wider area of involvement covering terrorism, drug-trafficking, piracy, and disasters such as floods, typhoons, earthquakes and epidemics.

When Typhoon Frank hit the island of Panay early this year, the nuclear-powered USS Ronald Reagan was dispatched by the U.S. government allegedly to assist in local relief and recovery efforts. The fleet hovered around the Sulu Sea where Moro insurgents operate and Panay Island where the NPA is active. Progressive-minded groups were angry at President Arroyo for welcoming the nuclear-powered vessels on Philippine waters because it violated our Constitution’s ban on the entry of nuclear weapons in Philippine territory and the secrecy of its movements.

The ancestral domain in Mindanao, long coveted by the MILF as the new Bangsa Moro nation, could be the new “killing fields.” There are reports of deep involvement of U.S. forces in combat operations against MILF detachments that have led to the dislocation of over 250,000 civilians, with several hundreds killed due to the mayhem.

What have our leaders done to denounce and stop this carnage and destruction affecting millions of our countrymen in the south? When will the U.S. meddling on behalf of the corrupt and bankrupt Arroyo regime end?

The more reason we need massive “people power” on the streets again in order to protest the criminality of the U.S.-Arroyo regime and to scrap the VFA and all other instruments of U.S. control. Otherwise, our country will quietly slip into the horror of another Vietnam.

Another thing, Ka Topits. What is this I heard that Filipino children killed in the crossfire between government soldiers and insurgents are being branded as “child soldiers?” It’s an issue I will tackle in my next letter. Meanwhile, Godspeed and hope everything is well.

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