28 November 2013
The UK-based Campaign for Human Rights in the Philippines (CHRP) added its voice to those who are troubled by the presence of the American military in areas affected by Typhoon Haiyan (Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines). News reports said at least six US warships led by USS George Washington with 5,000 troop members were deployed in the typhoon-battered areas.
While understanding that the military of a number of nations have come to offer humanitarian assistance to the typhoon survivors, CHRP recognises the concerns of locals at having a military presence in these areas. Many rural areas of the Philippines have been militarised by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) who are fighting a counter-insurgency against, among others, the Communist New People’s Army (NPA). Many locals have experience of human rights violations from the armed forces, who have in the past been supported by the ex-colonial power of the United States.
Even without this disaster, the US has been pushing for an increased and permanent presence of their troops and warships in the Philippines for its Asian pivot. At a press conference with visiting US congressional delegates on 25 November 2013, Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said the US military deployment in the country after Typhoon Haiyan revealed the need to conclude basing arrangements for US forces in the Philippines. Del Rosario said the massive US military deployment underlined the need for the “framework agreement that we are working on with the United States for increased rotational presence.”
The secretary general of Philippine human rights organisation Karapatan, Cristina Palabay, noted: “We are aware that Samar and Leyte and, the provinces of Negros and Panay are among the priority areas of the AFP’s counter-insurgency program, Oplan Bayanihan. We do not want to a repeat of human rights violations experienced by the survivors of typhoon Pablo in 2012. We do not want another Cristina Jose who was killed because she demanded for relief goods for her and her community members,” she said.
The key issue is whether the troops will confine themselves to the delivery of aid and how long they will remain.
“Whilst appreciating all humanitarian aid given in the wake of Typhoon Yolanda, it is imperative that US military forces are withdrawn as soon as possible. The rebuilding of communities and lives cannot happen if areas remain dominated by military presence and domination. Recent experience has shown that the AFP’s collaboration with the USA in its supposed ‘war on terror’ has, in fact, been experienced as a ‘war of terror’ waged against many ordinary people and communities in this disaster hit area,” said Canon Barry Naylor, Honorary President of CHRP.
The Philippine army has admitted that while it is engaged in relief efforts, it maintains “sufficient equipment and support to Internal Security Operations.”
Palabay has warned the government of Benigno Simeon Aquino III not to take advantage of the situation saying, “there were many instances in the past that combat operations, as part of military psywar, are disguised as humanitarian operations in communities considered by the government as ‘red-areas’. Already, Samar, Leyte, Negros and Panay are among the provinces with high incidents of human rights violations because of the government’s counterinsurgency program” Palabay added.
Palabay concluded that “While we welcome all aid extended to our brothers and sisters in the Visayas, we don’t see the necessity of deploying missile cruisers and missile destroyers and, amphibious assault vehicles and other warships.”
Canon Barry Naylor, Honorary President, CHRP-UK, 07757 853 621
Rafael Joseph Maramag, Secretary, CHRP-UK, 07958482753