KARAPATAN asserts scrapping of VFA for deaths related to US operations

COMMEMORATING today of the historic 1991 Philippine Senate rejection of the extension of U.S. bases, the human rights alliance KARAPATAN called for the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) citing the deaths of two Filipinos this year involving US troops.

Gregan Cardeño, 33, signed up as a security guard but was contracted out as an interpreter for US troops by  Skylink Security and General Services, a subcontractor of of DynCorp, an American firm that specializes in high-risk contract work for the Pentagon and the US State Department. last January 30, 2010.  Cardeño learned of the job opening from a family friend, Capt. Javier Ignacio, head of the AFP’s Military Police of the Western Mindanao Command in Zamboanga City.

On the morning of February 1, 2010, Cardeño was flown from Zamboanga to Marawi. By afternoon, in separate calls to his sister, Clarivel, and his wife, Myrna, he said he wanted out. The following day, according to the Marawi Police and the US troops, Cardeño was found dead inside the barracks of the Philippine Army's 103rd Infantry Brigade at Camp Ranao, Brgy. Datu Saber, Marawi City, where Cardeño was staying as it was the barracks of the US troops where he was supposedly assigned. 

The Marawi City Police Station reported to the Lanao del Sur Provincial Police Office that Cardeño was assigned to a unit of the US military known as Liaison Coordination Elements (LCEs) based in Camp Ranao.

 LCEs advise and assist select AFP units in planning and fusing all sources of intelligence in support of operations.

On March 25, Captain Javier Ignacio was shot dead by four men riding on separate motorcycles after he helped the family in the investigations of the mysterious death of his friend. 

KARAPATAN and the local human rights group, Kawagib, conducted a fact-finding mission with the help of the Commission on Human Rights then under Chairperson Leila de Lima.  Interestingly, aside from the local National Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation also conducted its own probe.

Instead of digging deeper into the facts and circumstances of Cardeño’s death, the Philippine government through the NBI considered the case closed, citing suicide. Cardeño’s relatives are still receiving threats to this day, and have petitioned for the writ of amparo at the Supreme Court in April this year.

US troops comprising the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P) was established by the US Special Operations Command Pacific (SOCPAC) despite the explicit Constitutional ban on foreign military troops, bases and facilities in the country under Article XVIII, Section 25 of the 1987 Constitution. 

Cardeño’s and Ignacio’s deaths add to the long list of US troops’ violations of the sovereignty and rights of the Filipino people  These continuing violations warrant a thorough review towards the abrogation of the lopsided VFA under which these foreign forces are allowed to commit such heinous crimes against the Filipino people and continue with such acts with complete impunity!

Karapatan supports the relatives of the victims in calling for justice for the killing of Gregan Cardeño and Capt. Javier Ignacio. The deaths should be thoroughly investigated by authorities, the perpetrators caught and punished. 

The human rights alliance also called for the junking of the VFA, and the assertion of Philippine sovereignty.  The continuing presence of the U.S. troops, and their military involvement in the internal affairs contribute to the ever worsening human rights situation in the country, through aiding the AFP in the counter-insurgency program Oplan Bantay Laya, which resulted to thousands of victims of extrajudicial killings, hundreds of enforced disappearance and hundred of thousands of forcible evacuation. ##