FACILITIES currently being constructed across Mindanao for American soldiers are not permanent military bases, insists an official of the U.S. Embassy in reaction to a report about the existence of an American base construction unit providing “operations support” for a group set up by the U.S. Special Forces Command in the south. But the international think-tank that made the disclosure last week believes otherwise.
Karen Schinnerer, U.S. Embassy deputy spokesperson and deputy press attaché, The Manila Times reported yesterday, admitted that the U.S. government has commissioned construction projects but these, she claims, are not permanent facilities and are meant only for “medical, logistical, and administrative services” to be used by American soldiers.
Even earlier, the chief of the Visiting Forces Agreement Commission (VFACom), Edilberto Adan, a retired military general, also denied that American military bases are being constructed in Mindanao. Adan said what are being built are living quarters for U.S. troops engaged in joint training exercises with the Armed Forces of the Philippines, adding that these are inside AFP camps and therefore under Philippine control.
Focus on the Global South, however, thinks that it’s more than a question of semantics. The U.S. and the Philippine governments, it claims, are deliberately seeking to keep the nature of U.S. military presence in the Philippines secret, consistent with U.S. and host-government practice in other countries hosting American bases faced with domestic opposition.
The Bangkok-based research institute raises valid questions:
- Why is the Philippines listed by the U.S. Overseas Basing Commission (OBC), an official U.S. government body, as developing “cooperative security locations” which is a category of bases under U.S. military definition?
- Why has the Philippines been described by the U.S. Congressional Research Service, a U.S. government body, as a “supply base for military operations throughout the region?”
- Why has a U.S. base construction unit, the Naval Facilities Engineering Command, been given a six-month $14.4-million contract to U.S. firms offering “base operations” services? How much do “living quarters” as Adan describes their facilities cost?
- Why do American troops refer to their bases in Mindanao as “Advanced Operating Base 920?”
Herbert Docena, research associate at Focus, says there is a “deliberate attempt” to obscure the definition of what constitutes a “U.S. base” by locating U.S. troops and supplies under the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P) inside host-nation facilities, as is the case in Mindanao confirmed by both Adan and Schinnerer.
“But for all intents and purposes, Focus on the Global South believes that the nature of their presence in the Philippines constitutes a form of basing,” says Docena.
Based on the U.S. Department of Defense’s definition, “cooperative security locations,” of which the OBC confirmed the Philippines is hosting, are facilities technically owned by host governments that would only be used by the U.S. in case of actual operations. Though they could be visited and inspected by the U.S., they would most likely be ran and maintained by host-nation personnel or even private contractors. They are useful for prepositioning logistics support or as venues for joint operations with the host military. They are, however, considered as U.S. military facilities by the Pentagon.