Madinat al-Muslimeen Islamic Message Board
|War on Islaam taken to Phillipines|
|01/25/02 at 13:53:20|
|And they still say this isnt a war against Islaam!|
MANILA - Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's decision to allow the deployment of US troops in the restive south has created a political firestorm, one that her government can ill afford just a year into her troubled presidency.
It is now one of Arroyo's biggest political headaches, raising a ruckus from the left and politicians as well as a resignation threat from her own vice president/foreign secretary, even as her government is still struggling to prove itself.
This month, about 600 US troops will go to the southern island of Basilan and join 1,200 Filipino soldiers in their mission to quell the extremist Muslim group Abu Sayyaf (Bearer of the Sword). Part of the US troop deployment is already in the country. The Abu Sayyaf, estimated to have fewer than 1,000 members, has been linked by the United States to the Al-Qaeda terrorist network of Osama bin Laden.
US defense officials have called the mission to the Philippines the largest deployment of US military officials and personnel outside Afghanistan, and consider it part of the US war against terror. "It is not a modest number," US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has been quoted as saying.
But while Manila says that the US troops will train Filipinos in putting the Abu Sayyaf under control, critics ranging from politicians to constitutional experts say the presence of US soldiers in this way is a violation of national sovereignty and is an ominous sign of foreign intervention. Arroyo is holding a series of crisis meetings on the matter this week.
Jovito Salonga, who was Senate president when the chamber ended a military-bases agreement with the United States in 1991, decries the exercises as "a violation of the constitution that bans foreign troops and foreign facilities in the Philippines".
"After our Senate ended more than 400 years of foreign military presence in the Philippines, we are now back to the worst kind of military intervention," says Salonga. To people like him, the sight of US soldiers on Philippine soil in relation to a local conflict brings back memories of the United States' inordinately big role political affairs in the past, stemming from its colonization of the Philippines at the turn of the 20th century and the presence of the military bases. In the 1930s, US forces took part in the Philippine government's campaign against communist guerrillas.
But presidential spokesman Rigoberto Tiglao cites a nationwide poll conducted by the private pollster Social Weather Stations that showed 81 percent acceptance of having US troops help in the fight against the Abu Sayyaf. "I just want the Abu Sayyaf obliterated," says Joy Chu, a businesswoman and mother of two in Manila. "Too much damage has been done to all of us."
She was referring to the problems that the Abu Sayyaf has brought, especially through its spate of bold and high-profile kidnappings in the past few years. Founded in the 1990s by the late Khadafy Janjalani, who fought and trained with the mujahideen in Afghanistan, the Abu Sayyaf has built its arsenal through million-dollar ransom payments from kidnappings of civilians, including local and foreign tourists.
While the group says that it seeks an Islamic state, its Islamic credentials are believed by very few among the 5 million Muslims in the Philippines. Many say the Abu Sayyaf are but bandits misusing Islam, and the bigger Muslim rebel groups have distanced themselves from it.
About 5,000 Filipino troops have been deployed in Basilan for months, but they have been unsuccessful. This is why Filipino officials say US help would be a big boost to the campaign against the Abu Sayyaf, who still hold some hostages, including two American missionaries. US troops would bring in sophisticated weapons for modern surveillance, night observation devices, target acquisitions and sniper rifles. Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes says US soldiers would not engage in active combat, but would be involved only in support and maintenance operations. However, he said they would join Filipino front-line troops to evaluate their performance. They will be allowed to carry weapons for self-protection and to engage Abu Sayyaf rebels but only in self-defense.
"The apparent public acceptance [of the deployment of US troops] seems to feed upon prevalent anti-Moro [Filipino Muslim] sentiments and a general exasperation with Philippine military efforts in Mindanao," explains sociologist and political analyst Randolf David. But he stresses, "This is a local war and the Abu Sayyaf are local bandits. That Americans and other foreigners have been among their victims does not make them global terrorists. This is an internal problem that is being given an international dimension. Why?"
Satur Ocampo, a leftist congressman and former spokesman of the Communist Party of the Philippines-National Democratic Front, the leftist umbrella group, said that "this initial tie-up of military exercises, with actual military operations against the Abu Sayyaf, may expand to a wide scale" to include even the communist and other Muslim insurgencies. The leftist group is also on the US list of "terrorist" groups.
"We are on a defensive stance since we are holding negotiations with the government," says Edi Kabalu, spokesman of the 12,500-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which has been fighting for an Islamic state in the south for more than 20 years. "But in the event the US troops will be used against us, we are ready to adopt the necessary measures to defend ourselves," he adds. But Eduardo Ermita, presidential adviser on the peace process, says this is "not going to happen".
Arroyo has also had to allay fears after a statement made by US Senator Sam Brownback that "the Philippines is going to be the next Afghanistan". She said, "We are not the next Afghanistan. We have been battling the terrorists even before" the US launched its anti-terrorist attacks in Afghanistan to flush out members of the Al-Qaeda network who are believed to be supporting the terrorist activities of Muslim groups in Mindanao.
Source: Asia Times
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