By Julius N. Leonen
The technical support being provided by the United States special forces to the Philippine military battling to dislodge Islamist militants in Marawi City is allowed under the law, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II yesterday said.
“What is prohibited under the Constitution is the joining of US troops in actual combat. But sharing of intelligence and equipment is allowed under the EDCA (Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement),” he stressed.
Article 18, Section 25 of the 1987 Constitution provides: “After the expiration in 1991 of the Agreement between the Republic of the Philippines and the United States of America concerning military bases, foreign military bases, troops, or facilities shall not be allowed in the Philippines except under a treaty duly concurred in by the Senate and, when the Congress so requires, ratified by a majority of the votes cast by the people in a national referendum held for that purpose, and recognized as a treaty by the other contracting State.”
“This assistance is what the US provided also during the Oplan Exodus in Mamasapano operation,” he recalled.
Aguirre cited as precedent the assistance given by the US troops during the Mamasapano clash on Jan. 25, 2015 where 44 elite police commandos sent to capture or kill wanted Malaysian terrorist and bomb-maker Zulkilfo Abdhir were killed by Moro IslamicLiberation Front and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.
Philippine troops are struggling to defeat hundreds of fighters, who rampaged through Marawi on May 23 flying black flags of the Islamic State (IS) group, and have used civilians as human shields, bomb-proof tunnels and anti-tank weapons to fortify their positions.
As the conflict intensified, the US Embassy in Manila said American forces were providing assistance to the Filipino troops, although it declined to give details for security reasons.
“At the request of the government of the Philippines, US special operations forces are assisting the (Philippine military) with ongoing operations in Marawi,” the embassy said in an earlier statement.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines also admitted receiving support from US forces in the government’s bid to retake Marawi City from terrorists, but maintained that their participation is limited to technical assistance.
US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim earlier said the US has “continued to provide counter-terrorism support for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), and that effort continues.”
“This cooperation has continued throughout, across different administrations in the Philippines,” Kim said.
Kim insisted that assistance provided by US armed forces will not include American combatants in the war zone.
“This is a cooperation that has continued for some time now, it’s a cooperation that’s appreciated by the Philippines military and it’s a cooperation that’s continued with the knowledge of the Philippine government and the AFP,” Kim said.
Washington last week gave Manila hundreds of machine guns, pistols and grenade launchers, which a local commander said would be used in the fight against Islamist militants.
Philippine military leaders have said their troops unexpectedly interrupted plans by the fighters to take over Marawi in a spectacular event to show that IS had arrived in the Philippines and was intent on carving out territory.
They initially estimated there were about 100 gunmen but later said there were as many as 500, supplemented by foreign fighters from Chechnya, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.