Karapatan raises concern over heavy presence of AFP, US troops in disaster areas

“We are aware that Samar and Leyte and, the provinces of Negros and Panay are among the priority areas of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ counterinsurgency program, Oplan Bayanihan. We do not want 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,” said Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay. 

The AFP, on its website afp.mil.ph, claimed that as of Nov. 16 there are “12,000 troops on the ground under the Central Command,” aside from what it called as 3,400 “external troops” and “follow on forces” for augmentation. 

Palabay warned the BS Aquino government 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. 

The AFP admitted that while it is engaged in relief efforts, it maintains “sufficient equipment and support to Internal Security Operations.” Earlier, police and military checkpoints were already set-up in the disaster-stricken areas, while photos of policemen arresting “looters” circulated in social media.   

US troops and warships

Karapatan expressed alarm over the statement of Foreign Affairs secretary Albert del Rosario citing the need for increased presence of US troops in the country through the framework agreement, as demonstrated by the “assistance” provided by the US in the aftermath of typhoon Yolanda. 

“The cat then is out of the bag—the so-called humanitarian assistance by US troops in the disaster areas is a justification for their permanent basing and operation in the Philippines. Even without this disaster, the US was pushing for an increased and permanent presence of their troops and warships in the Philippines for its Asian pivot,” Palabay said.

“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,” added Palabay. 

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. Members of Karapatan who joined the relief mission in Tacloban described the presence of US troops there as “virtual takeover.” 

“Aside from the support from international groups, what we really need is a government that is responsive to the needs of the people. The BS Aquino government has obviously failed the people, with or without disasters,” Palabay ended. ÿ