Out Now! Coalition questions US presence in Baliki war

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/22 August) – A group opposing US military presence in the country is questioning the presence of US troops in Barangay Baliki, Midsayap, North Cotabato last Sunday and wants the Senate and House of Representatives to probe “increasing US military involvement in Mindanao and US meddling in the GRP-MILF peace negotiations.”

The US Troops Out Now Coalition-Mindanao made these calls in a statement signed by Philippine Independent Church Bishop Felixberto Calang.

A MindaNews team chanced upon a team of US soldiers and their Filipino counterparts near a detachment of the 38th IB in Barangay Baliki, Midsayap, North Cotabato on August 17, searching for unexploded 500-pounder GP (general purpose) bombs fired from OV-10 Bronco bomber aircraft on supposed MILF targets the previous Sunday, August 10.

One of two 500-pounder unexploded bombs was detonated by the joint RP-US team.

A Filipino sergeant said the American soldier he escorted and was seen by the MindaNews team, was with three other US troops.

MindaNews asked one of the American soldiers at the Hill Top Inn in Midsayap, where they were billeted, but he said, “I don’t talk to reporters.”

The soldiers went to Baliki on board two silver Toyota Hi-Lux Vigo vehicles with no plate numbers, just a plate bearing the initials “VFA” (for Visiting Forces Agreement).

The US Troops Out Now Coalition-Mindanao in a statement said they question “the presence of US troops involved in actual combat operations in pursuit of Moro rebels in Mindanao.”

“The VFA clearly surrenders our national sovereignty and is being used to legalize the wanton exercise of US hegemony in the Philippines through terror-mongering,” it said.

“Next to the February 4 massacre in Maimbung, Sulu where residents claimed to have seen US soldiers accompanying local troops in military operations, the Baliki incident is another proof that the United States has been engaged in actual military intervention in Mindanao wars,” it said.

“While Philippine Army officials try to justify the US troops’ participation as mere assistance in ordinance disposal, this shows that the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) is blurring the distinction between ‘exercise’ and ‘actual combat’ to legally justify permanent American presence and engagement in Mindanao,” the group said.

“Government’s failure to disclose to the public the Terms of Reference (TOR) governing the presence of US troops in Mindanao, including the docking of US warships like the USS Vandegrift (in Cagayan de Oro and other parts of Mindanao) in March this year, is highly suspect.

”Out Now!-Mindanao is apprehensive that US military presence is part of the US government’s double-edged policy of engagement with the MILF. While it facilitates peace negotiations and provides post-settlement aid package on one hand,  it is engaged in counter-insurgency pursuit operations in the guise of counter-terrorism on the other,” it added. (MindaNews)

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