ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Feb. 22, 2008) – The Philippine military has denied Friday reports by a Filipino fact-finding group that US troops have put up secret bases in Mindanao.
The Citizens Peace Watch (CPW), an umbrella organization of political and human rights groups, said it has confirmed the presence of a fortified US military base inside the headquarters of the Western Mindanao Command in Zamboanga City.
It said the base is the headquarters of the US Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines, a unit of the US Special Forces that has been deploying troops to various parts of Mindanao since 2002.
Lawyer Corazon Fabros, of the CPW, said her group was sent away by Filipino soldiers after they failed to get a permission to inspect the US facility. She said the base has communication facilities and is heavily guarded that even Filipino soldiers are not allowed without a pass.
"The 'visitors' have not only stayed on, they have set up camp in our house and told us – their hosts – to go away," said Fabros in a statement sent to the Mindanao Examiner.
She said the US military base stands out and is sealed from the rest of Western Mindanao Command by walls, concertina wire, and sandbags. The actual size of the area it occupies could not immediately be established from the outside. But communication facilities such as satellite dishes, antenna, and other instruments are visible.
US Marines provided protection for the facility; some workers were seen wore IDs identifying them with DynCorp, a controversial US military contractor.
The group said other facilities inside the base were unknown. "What exactly are they hiding here? Why all this secrecy?" asked Amabella Carumba, of the Mindanao People's Peace Movement, a member of the fact-finding mission.
The US military maintains similar facilities in Mindanao where it is assisting and advising Filipino troops in fighting terrorism. US troops were also spotted inside the headquarters of the Philippine Army’s 6th Infantry Division and in Philippine Marine bases in Sulu province and in Mactan island in Central Philippines.
There are American forces in Tawi-Tawi and Lanao provinces.
A Bangkok-based international research organization called Focus on the Global South, said US troops deployed in Mindanao have established a new kind of US base.
Major Eugene Batara, a spokesman for the Western Mindanao Command, strongly denied the reports and said there are no secret US bases in the region.“There are no US bases in Mindanao. In Zamboanga City, the US maintains a temporary facility inside the Western Mindanao Command. It is not a US base nor it is secret because everybody knows about it,” he said in a separate interview.
Batara said Filipino soldiers also use the facility of the JSOTF-P. “We also use their facility, such as their communications as part of the joint Balikatan program,” he said.
But Focus on the Global South said contrary to previous efforts by the US and Philippine governments to portray the troops as participating only in temporary training exercises Balikatan, it has since been revealed that this unit has stayed on and maintained its presence in the country for the last six years.
Contradicting claims that they are not involved in the fighting, Focus has gathered pronouncements by US troops themselves who have gone on record to say that their mission in the south is "unconventional warfare" – a US military term that encompasses combat operations.
With the Philippine government not giving a definite exit date, and with US officials stating that this unit – composed of between 100 to 500 troops depending on the season – will stay on as long as they are allowed by the government, it is presumed that it will continue to be based in the Philippines for an indefinite period.
According to Focus' research, the JSOTF-P's stationing in the south is a prototype of the new kind of overseas basing that the US has introduced as part of its ongoing effort to realign its global basing structure.
Since 2001, the US – which has more than 700 bases and installations in over 100 countries around the world – has embarked on the most radical realignment of its overseas basing network since World War II.
Part of the changes is the move away from large permanent bases – such as the ones in Subic and Clark – in favor of smaller, more austere, more low profile bases such as the JSOTF-P's presence in Zamboanga and in other places in Mindanao.
In terms of profile and mission, Focus pointed out that the JSOTF-P is very similar to the Combined Joint Task Force–Horn, which was established in Djibouti in western Africa in 2003 and which has been described as a sample of the US austere basing template and the "model for future US military operations."
Focus said the Philippines is one of the "nodes for special operations forces" that former Defense Secretary Donald Rusted himself revealed the Pentagon would establish as part of its changes in Asia.
Focus notes that US troops themselves refer to their base in Sulu as "Advance Operating Base-920."
It also said the US Naval Facilities Engineering Command NAVFAC) had in June 6, 2007, awarded a six-month $14.4-million contract to a certain "Global Contingency Services LLC" of Irving, Texas for "operations support" for the JSOTF-P.
According to its own website, the NAVFAC is the unit within the US military that is in charge of providing the US Navy with "operating, support, and training bases."
It "manages the planning, design, and construction and provides public works support for US Naval shore installations around the world." Among their business lines are "bases development" and "contingency engineering."
The Pentagon said the contract awarded to Global Contingency Services LLC includes "all labor, supervision, management, tools, materials, equipment, facilities, transportation, incidental engineering, and other items necessary to provide facilities support services."
Global Contingency Services LLC is a partnership between DynCorp International, Parsons Global Services, and PWC Logistics. The $14.4 million contract is actually part of a bigger $450-million five-year contract for Global Contingency Services to "provide a full range of world-wide contingency and disaster-response services, including humanitarian assistance and interim or transitional base-operating support services."
According to DynCorp's website, this will include "facility operations and maintenance; air operations; port operations; health care; supply and warehousing; galley; housing support; emergency services; security, fire, and rescue; vehicle equipment; and incidental construction."
Contingency Response Services LLC describes its work as encompassing "operating forces support," "community support," and "base support." According to the Defense Industry Daily publication, the contract also includes "morale, welfare, and recreation support."
The specific contract for work for the JSOTF-P was expected to be completed last month, but other contracts may follow as part of the $450 million-package.
According to Focus' research, the JSOTF-P has not only been involved in the Philippine military's operations in the south, it also represents the new kind of more austere, more low-profile kind of overseas presence that the US has been striving to introduce as part of its comprehensive restructuring of its forward-deployment.
Last year, US Embassy deputy spokesperson and deputy press attaché Karen Schinnerer admitted the American government commissioned the construction of facilities across Mindanao for US soldiers, but insisted the projects are not permanent military bases.
She said the US construction projects are for “medical, logistical and administrative services” to be used by the American soldiers. She said the structures are not permanent US bases. US troops use the facilities only on a temporary basis for them to “eat, sleep and work,” she told The Manila Times. (Mindanao Examiner)