The Global Partnership for the Prevention of  Armed Conflict (GPPAC) network in southeast Asia  issues this call in solidarity with the people in Mindanao who believe that the American military trainings in Mindanao should stop and that American troops should pull out of Mindanao the soonest.

Regional groups call stop to joint army exercises, demand pull out of Americans

The Global Partnership for the Prevention of  Armed Conflict (GPPAC) network in southeast Asia  issues this call in solidarity with the people in Mindanao who believe that the American military trainings in Mindanao should stop and that American troops should pull out of Mindanao the soonest.

GPPAC  is a  global peace network started in 2003 to help prevent armed conflict and promote peace building. GPPAC’s 15 regional networks all over the world met last year with top United Nations officials to strengthen official mechanisms for preventing armed conflict; and to increase civil society engagements with the United Nations and governments to promote global peace. From this conference resulted a Global Action Agenda which identifies potential solutions- as well as threats- to achieve world peace. The GPPAC network believes that US military presence in Mindanao is a threat to peace in the region, hence our call for the US-RP joint trainings to stop and for the Americans to pull out of Mindanao.

As pointed out in our GPPAC regional agenda, we are deeply concerned over the impact of the US-led “war on terror” on the region.  The war on terror has been used by some governments in the region to legitimize the use of violence as means to address conflict situations.  It is also fueling militarization of the region and the expansion of US military influence, most notably in the southern Philippines, which was singled out by the US as the “second front” of the global war on terrorism.  In the region, the war on terror has led to targeting of Muslim communities as alleged havens or bases for terrorist cells and trainings.

In Mindanao, the presence of American soldiers is stirring the emotions of  the people in Carmen, North Cotabato, where the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has civilian bases. The Americans are also stirring the emotions of  the people in Sulu, who have not forgotten the brutal American colonial campaign in Mindanao a century hence. Justice is an issue in Sulu, where massacres of the local population were perpetrated by American soldiers sent to subjugate Moro populations in the 1900s. The Tausug people of Sulu have not forgotten the Bud Dahu Massacre of  some 1,600 Tausug men, women and children in March 1906; the Bud Bagsak Massacre in 1913; and another massacre in Bud Talipao.

There is also strong anti-US sentiment  in Mindanao areas after  last year’s  alleged gang-rape of a Filipina by four American soldiers stationed at Subic Bay in Olongapo City. But for joint training exercises, those American G.I.s  would have been somewhere else outside the Philippines. The social costs of hosting armed Americans will also test the communities in Mindanao where the exercises take place. Newspaper reports say that commercial sex workers trooped as early as December last year to the videoke bars near army camps in Sulu where the Americans will be staying. A village residents association head complained that some local female teenagers were being mistaken by the Americans for prostitutes; he also claimed that Filipino military personnel were acting as pimps for the sex workers.
True, several joint RP-US military exercises have been held in Mindanao such as the first Balance Piston held in Carmen,North Cotabato on July 26 to August 13, 2004; the second in Basilan on April 11-May 5, 2005 and the third in the Zamboanga Peninsula (Guipos, Zamboanga del Sur, Sirawai, Zamboanga del Norte and Ipil in Zamboanga Sibugay) on November 3-December 2, 2005.

There were few reported training-related incidents to civilians, among them the death of an elderly Moro woman distressed by the first Carmen, North Cotabato “Balance Piston” training in 2004. The Moro-Christian People’s Alliance (MCPA) also claims a  19-year  old Moro died after being hit by a stray bullet during live firing exercises between US trainers and Philippine Marines in Zamboanga City.

But the Terms of  Reference  (TOR) are not clear or open to scrutiny in many cases, such as what civil society activists learned of this year’s  Jan-February “Balance Piston 2” training also in Carmen. The last TOR on US military exercises in the  Philippines was for the Balikatan 02-1 in January to July 2002, with no TOR  made available to civil society monitors since then.

The military exercises, according to the armed forces, will strictly be held inside Philippine military camps. But their venues are in the conflict areas of Mindanao, and in the case of Carmen, Sulu and Basilan, in areas which are known bases of the Moro revolutionary armed groups, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) or the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). Civil society groups have pointed out that Carmen is not exactly a neutral venue, as it has been the scene of community massacres during the Ilaga-Barracuda armed paramilitary groups fighting in the 1970s. (Some 60 US soldiers are involved in Carmen)

Neither is Sulu by a long shot, because of the aforementioned anti-colonial struggle of the Tausugs in the last century and because it remains a hotbed for Moro armed struggles. Even after the Nur Misuari-led MNLF signed a Final Peace Agreement with the government in 1996 and agreed to disarmament and integration into the regular army, Sulu has remained the scene of  armed clashes between the remnants of Misuari’s army and the armed forces. Serious fighting flared up in Sulu in  February 2005 displacing around 50,000 people, and again in November 2005 sparked by the massacre of a Muslim family.Often,the non-implementation of the peace agreement has been an issue of the MNLF.

While the leadership of  both the MILF and the MNLF have ordered their forces to keep off  and away  from the training venues, the anti-terror framework of  the joint RP-US exercises has inexorably drawn both armies into their scope like a magnet. Several times in Cotabato and Maguindanao provinces where the MILF maintains a strong presence, MILF units were dragged into fighting when troops on operations against reported Abu Sayyaf strayed into MILF areas. In fact, the Philippine armed forces- along with US officials –   have time and again accused the MILF of coddling “terror” elements or providing training venues to foreign terrorists, thus upsetting the timetable of the government-MILF peace talks ongoing since 1997. The MNLF has likewise been dragged into the anti-terror fight, with military officials accusing MNLF commanders of aiding or fighting side with side with Abu Sayyaf elements in Sulu. Last year’s clashes in Sulu were an offshoot of  the Philippine army’s anti-terror operations in the island-province.

The presence of  American troops in Sulu (some 250-300 servicemen is the official claim) complicates the peace situation. While ostensibly acting only as trainers or consultants to Filipino troops, it is the belief of  Sulu civil society that Americans will eventually be involved in direct combat, thus paving the way for direct  US military intervention in Mindanao. They believe that the Balikatan’s actual purpose is not only the extermination of the terrorist Abu Sayyaf Group, but also that of the MNLF in Sulu, and that Sulu will become America’s “next Afghanistan”. The US “war on terror”, they say, has turned into a US “war of  terror” in Sulu.

GPPAC  thus presents a global network against growing US military presence in the southeast Asia region, which presence is feared to  spark animosity among Islamic groups who were against the US-led war in Iraq. GPPAC offers the alternative of  dialogue to look into the root causes in the Mindanao conflict, and not solely military action, or even short-term civil-military actions as the US servicemen are also doing in Mindanao. For example, are the military actions in Sulu taking into account that there is discontent in Sulu over the continued detention of MNLF Chair Nur Misuari (since January 2002 on charges of rebellion) and the inadequate implementation of the Final Peace Agreement that he signed with government in 1996?

GPPAC also offers engagements with the governments and the United Nations as a way of solving regional conflicts, instead of  unilateral military action by western nations in the case of Afghanistan and Iraq. We believe that war is not the solution.

GPPAC  member organizations will be in Mindanao to offer  the solidarity of the ASEAN peoples to non-military solutions to conflicts. We will be in Sulu for the 100-year commemoration of the Bud Dahu Massacre in March this year. There we will press home the lesson that direct intervention and military action- whether as colonial policy or as contemporary political strategy in the anti-terror campaign- does not work. Bud Dahu presents a clear case of unresolved justice through the act of war.

We will assert  that  western-led military solutions using the same anti-terror framework used in Iraq will not solve ASEAN’s unique and complex conflicts. We are for dialogue, increased engagements with governments and the United Nations, and the institutionalization of formal mechanisms for preventing armed conflicts. There are viable alternatives to war, and they are many.

We declare our support to  civil society initiatives to resolve conflict in Sulu and to offer proper closure to the civilian victims in the Bud Dahu Massacre a century ago. We support the “Bantay Melikan” (American Watch) of civil society monitors watching US troops in Sulu, and hope to replicate such initiatives in our own conflicts.

We assert the varied roles that civil society can play to help resolve the continuing conflicts in the south. Indeed, peace is too important a matter to be left entirely in the hands of  governments and armed groups.

The GPPAC organizations network:

The Southeast Asian Centre for e-Media (SEACeM)
Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram)
Group of Concerned Citizens
Sisters in Islam (SIS)
Asian Students Association (ASA)

Alliance for Conflict Transformation (ACT) Cambodia
Khmer Women Voice Center (KWVC)
Association of Nun and Lay Women of Cambodia (ANLWC)
Women Peacemakers
Working Group for Weapons Reduction (WGWR)
Kadalak Sulimutuk Institute (KSI)
Catholic Relief Services (CRS) East Timor
Conselho Popular Democratico – Democratic Republic of Timor Leste (CPD-RDTL)
Peace and Democracy Foundation (PDF)
Community Radio RAKAMBIA – East Timor

The Research Center for Gender and Development / ARENA
Vietnam Peace and Development Foundation

Indonesian Legal Aid and Human Rights Association (PBHI)
Institut Titian Perdamaian / Peacebuilding Institute
Center for Security and Peace Studies (CSPS), Gadjah Mada University
Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)
LPS HAM – Institute for Law Research and Human Rights Advocacy
Kelompok Perjuangan Kesetaraan Perempuan (Group for the Struggle of Women’s Equality)
Institut Titian Perdamaian / Peacebuilding Institute
Institute of Community Justice (ICJ) Makassar
Maluku Masa Depan
SHEEP (Society for Health, Education, Environmental and Peace) /
AICoSeP (Alliance for Community based Self Reliant Peacebuilder)

Gaston Z. Ortigas Peace Institute (GZOPI)
Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society (CBCS)
Pigsalabukan Bansa Subanen (PBS)/ (MPC)
Panagtagbo Mindanao
Agong/Social Action Center – Cotabato
Sulu CSO / Jihad-al-Akbar Foundation / Bangsamoro Women Solidarity Forum (BWSF)
Mindanao Peoples Peace Movement (MPPM)
Initiative for International Dialogue (IID)
Bicol Social Action Commission
Paghiliusa sa Paghidaet Negros
Gathering for Peace & Asian Peace Alliance
Center for Peace Education, Miriam College & Peace Education Network

Forum Asia
Women’s Rights Development Centre
Peace Information Center, Faculty of Political Science Thammasat University
Muslim Pattani Committee
Thai Coalition for the Protection for Human Rights Defenders [HRD-TH]
The Radio Community Coordinating Center

National League for Democracy (liberated Area) (NLD-LA)
Women’s League of Burma (WLB)
Karen Development Network

Catholic Institute for International Relations (CIIR)
WV Development Foundation Philippines / World Vision International (WV)

Nonviolent Peaceforce (Southeast Asia)
South East Asian Committee for Advocacy (SEACA)
Third World Network
Focus on the Global South