April 20, 2012
The umbrella group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) today called on the Philippine government through its Presidential Commission on the Visiting Forces Agreement and the Joint Congressional Oversight on the VFA to conduct investigations into the death of a Filipino fisherman during US military operations in Basilan in Mindanao.The US and Philippine government have denied that the US troops were involved in the ongoing Ballikatan war games involving 4,000 US soldiers
On April 18 at around 7pm, Ahbam Juhurin was on his way home with his 20-year-old son to the island municipality of Hadji Muhtamad his boat hit a still unidentified American sea vessel. Reports say that the collision occurred on the coast of Baluk-Baluk near Hadji Muhtamad town. Juhurin died as a result of the collision while his son was reportedly injured and brought to the hospital.
The US embassy in Manila has confirmed the incident involving the Joint Special Operations Task Force Philippines, a unit of US Special Forces under the US Special Operations Command which has been based in Zamboanga in Mindanao since 2002. “During routine maritime activity on April 18 involving Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P) and Philippine security forces, their boat collided with a local fishing vessel. Despite rescue efforts, one local fisherman was killed, and another injured in the accident,” the embassy statement said.
Media reports say the family of the victim will be accepting compensation from the US. Meanwhile, the Basilan Provincial Police is said to be investigating the incident.
“This is not simply a police matter. A Filipino died because of the US troops operating in Mindanao. This is not the first time Filipinos have suffered injury because of these so-called US exercises and operations. It is time for other government agencies to look into the culpability of the US troops. The names of these US troops should be released and they should be prevented from leaving the country pending investigation,” said Bayan secretary general Renato M. Reyes, Jr.
“While the probe is ongoing, the Philippines should move to terminate all ongoing US military exercises and operations all over the country. If similar incidents happen elsewhere, the VFA does not provide protection for Filipinos. All Balikatan-related activities should be terminated immediately,” he added.
Bayan said that under the VFA, the US has exclusive jurisdiction over its troops involved in incidents that are in the performance of official duty. Even before any investigation by PH authorities takes place, the US commander can already issue a certification that the US troops involved in the sea mishap were part of an official activity. This would make them beyond the reach of Philippine law, according to the group.
“Normally when someone is killed, the Philippine authorities will ask for custody of the perpetrators, but from the way the VFA works, this is not likely to happen. This is why we’re saying that the pact is one-sided in favor of the US,” Reyes said.
Bayan demanded that the US government release the names of the US troops involved in the death of the Filipino fisherman and to subject these personnel to the proper investigation by Philippine authorities.
The group also criticized the Aquino government for failing to deliver on its promise of reviewing the VFA, particularly the provisions of custody of erring US troops. “Nearly two years into his term in office, Aquino has produced zero results on the VFA review he promised while he was campaigning as president. Meanwhile, violations of our sovereignty by US troops continue to take place,” Reyes said.
Bayan supported a Senate resolution passed in 2009 calling for the review or termination of the VFA. It recently led nationwide protests against the Balikatan war games. A four-day caravan to Zamboanga City was the main protest in Mindanao.
The US Embassy and West Mincom pointed out that the US troops involved in the incident “were not part of Balikatan 2012″ and that they were “on routine maritime activity”.
“The nature of the operations of the US-JSOTF is a mystery. What were they doing in those waters? What was their operation all about? Was it really a joint maritime activity with the Philippine forces or was it a unilateral activity of the US forces that have long been based in Mindanao? What do US troops mean as a ‘routine’ activity? An independent probe is necessary,” Reyes said. ###