Gov says US gov’t has helped Sulu more than Phil gov’t

Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews
Saturday, 27 September 2008 14:54
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PASAY CITY (MindaNews/26 September) – Sulu Governor Sakur Tan wants American soldiers to “stay longer” in his province, claiming the United States government has been helping Sulu more than the Philippine government.

st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) } In defending the presence of American military forces in Sulu, Tan enumerated the assistance the US has given his province.

“With these (forms of assistance), I really do not see why we should discourage the presence of the US forces in my area. In fact I would like to invite them to stay longer and stay on in my province because we need the help that they are providing,” Tan said, adding, “no other government, in fact I think they’re (the United States) doing even better (for Sulu) than, with due respect, than the Philippine government.”

Tan issued the statement at the committee hearing Thursday (September 25) of the Legislative Oversight Committee on the Visiting Forces Agreement (LOVFA) at the Senate’s Senator Pecson Room, triggering laughter from members of the committee chaired by Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago and co-chaired by Rep. Antonio Cuenco, staff and guests, including Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita.

The Committee hearing was on the “alleged participation of American troops in the Mindanao armed conflict.”

Tan defended the American forces against issues about alleged human rights violations. “I would think that it is these American forces who are providing the human rights for the people (sic). Now to object to the presence of the US forces would be a violation or obstruction to the delivery of these basic services which is the human rights of every individual or every Taosug (sic).”

Tan said that when he assumed the post of governor last year, he met with various sectors from civil society and the military, including Colonel David Maxwell, commander of the Joint Special Operations Task Force, and asked him the purpose of the US military in his area.

He said Maxwell told him they were there “to bring peace and development,” to which he replied, “if your purpose is to bring peace and development, you are most welcome even if you were Israelis. But if your purpose is to bring chaos and disorder, we have enough and even if you are Arabs, we do not welcome you.”

As governor, he said, he has “seen how the American forces in my area have been helping me in my governance, especially in civic, economic and social activities such as construction of bridges, construction of schoolbuildings, repairs of rural health units, including district hospitals, providing us with medicines, including surgical missions.”

“They are also providing us with Area Coordination Centers for all the18 towns including the provincial (center). These are structures that we have envisioned to be the catalyst to bring about coordination of all efforts of all government agencies, including the military, because in the ARMM, the provincial governments do not have control over other offices especially the national offices in the province so we have the Area Coordination Centers which we intend to organize down to the barangay level for the purpose of empowering the communities.”

The US military, he said, is “very supportive.”

“They are also going to construct a fire station in the capital town of Jolo because this is one of our principal problems now in Sulu and very soon, starting construction of the runway of the Jolo airport which should be able to land now, after construction, a 737,and we already have the funds ready, we signed already the memorandum of agreement,” he said.

“Likewise our water system, another very important commodity for everybody, we start the improvement by next week this is also partly funded by the US government and likewise the US forces are also learning from our Philippine soldiers in the matter of their strategizing their counter-terrorism and in fighting the criminal elements in our areas,” Tan said.

He explained that his administration has an agreement with the Philippine military that operations will be 80% civil-military and “only 20% purely military but it should be surgical and intelligence-driven operations to avoid collateral damage on the part of the civilians.”

Tan said the US government is “monitoring the implementation of projects and every now and then we open and inaugurate projects (with the US) more frequent than we do in the local government units.”

On the reported presence of the US military in the Ipil Massacre in Maimbung, Sulu, Tan said there was “no presence of American forces in the area because I was the first one to visit the families and I was the first one to condemn the Ipil massacre.”

In his statement to the Committee, Bishop Felixberto L.Calang of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente, main convenor of the US Troops Out Now Mindanao Coalition, cited the February 4, 2008 Ipil Massacre as one of the cases.

Calang said U.S. military spy plane (US P-3 Orion) “provided intelligence for an assault that led to the killing of eight civilians and four US military personnel were seen aboard military ship where victims’ bodies were taken after the incident.”

Eight persons, two of them children aged 4 and 9 were killed in what the military claimed was a “legitimate encounter” allegedly with the Abu Sayyaf in Ipil, Maimbung, Sulu on February 4 but which the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) found to be a “wanton carnage” of civilians.

The CHR on April 18 forwarded its April 14 resolution and investigation records to the Ombudsman for the Military, recommending the filing of criminal charges and the application of command responsibility “to maintain justice in the country.”

Tan also cited the order to close down the hospital in Panamao and said the American soldier in charge of Sulu, Major Eric Walker “apologized to me” and to the doctor, Silak Lakkian.

Lakkian told MindaNews that they “were ordered by American soldiers to shut down the generator the night of December 2 (2007). However, we decided to close the hospital because they told us that they will shoot us if we go out of the hospital at night.”

The kitchen and generator set were located outside.

“It took 28 days to resolve the issue. That’s why the hospital was closed for 28 day because we couldn’t sacrifice the lives of our people,” Lakian said.

Tan said: “I thought it was a matter of miscommunication. Theirs was for the purpose of cautioning civilians in the area but I made it clear to American forces through Walker that they should not impose on any individual in my province but course it through AFP in the area so they do not get their message directly but course it through authorities like Task Force Comet,” he said.

“So with these, your honors, I would think if there are human rights violation in my area , I should be the first one to condemn it but I would think that it is these American forces who are providing the human rights for the people (sic). Now to object to the presence of the US forces would be a violation or obstruction to the delivery of these basic services which is the human rights of every individual or every Taosug (sic). [Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews]

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