Thursday, August 27, 2009

US Forces Do Participate in Philippine Military Operations

The revelation by Lt. Senior Grade Nancy Gadian, the so-called Balikatan whistleblower, that US forces participated in military operations against the terrorist group Abu Sayyaf is not something new. The terms of Balikatan 02-01 - that huge joint RP-US military exercises in Basilan in 2002 - clearly say that US Forces can engage in combat as an act of self-defense.

It is interesting to note that our government officials are trying very hard to deny the embedding of US forces when in fact the very document signed by the government to govern the terms of these joint military exercises clearly states this. The same thing goes for the US Embassy in Manila. In a 2006 article by US Army Colonel Gregory Wilson, who has served as operations director for Special Operations Command South (based in Florida) and a command position for US forces in Southern Philippines, entitled Anatomy of a Successful COIN Operation: OEF-Philippines and the Indirect Approach (found on the US Army website!), he wrote the following:

In February 2002, the United States dispatched JTF-510, comprised of 1,300 U.S. Troops, to the Southern Philippines. Its mission was to conduct unconventional warfare operations "by, with, and through" the AFP to help the government separate the population from, and then destroy, Abu Sayyaf. The bulk of the force consisted of an air component in Mactan, Cebu, and staff and support personnel located at the JTF headquarters in Zamboanga. The tip of the U.S. spear consisted of 160 SF personnel and, later, 300 members of a Naval construction task group. All U.S. Forces operated under restrictive rules of engagement. Once on Basilan, SF advisers deployed down to the battalion level and moved in with their Philippine counterparts in remote areas near insurgent strongholds. . . (citations ommitted)
Although Colonel Wilson was careful enough to emphasize that US forces operated under restrictive rules of engagement, as are other public records on the matter, the undeniable fact is that US forces participated in Philippine military operations. And there is no denying the fact that when they did this, whether their presence is called on an "advisory" capacity only, they were not merely bringing hammers and shovels; they were in full combat gears! Now in a highly explosive conflict situation, where the object is to hunt down and kill Abu Sayyaf insurgents, firefights are bound to erupt - as in fact they did. So what would these highly trained American special forces units do in such a situation? We all know the answer to that.

But considering the colonel only said that US forces were deployed at the battalion level, which is equal to saying that their involvement in actual conflict would still be remote, skeptics would still be not convinced. The following, however, should erase any doubt about the embedding of US forces:

Soon after Balikatan 02-1, JTF-510 reorganized into a much leaner organization called the Joint Special Operations Task Force, Philippines (JSOTF-P), which continued advisory efforts with selected AFP units at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels . . . Deployed at the tactical level, SF advisory teams called Liaison coordination elements (Lce) are small, tailored, autonomous teams of special operations personnel from all services.57 they advise and assist select AFP units in planning and fusing all sources of intelligence in support of operations directed at insurgent-terrorist organizations.58 LCEs conduct Decentralized planning and execution using a robust reachback capability to the JSOTF-P to leverage additional assets in support of AFP operations.
The "SF units" referred to above means special forces, such as Green Berets, Navy Seals and other highly specialized and trained units of the US Armed Forces. If during the Balikatan 02-01 (also known as Operation Enduring Freedom) US forces were only deployed at the battalion level, the above passage clearly says after that operation, the US Forces started deploying at the tactical level - which means at the company or even platoon or squad levels, in which the actual military operations are carried out. Sure they are merely there as "advisers," but that is a very deceptive term. It will be recalled that during the early years of the Vietnam War, US Forces started being embedded on South Vietnamese Army units as "advisers" also. And, as previously observed, being deployed in a conflict situation creates the strong likelihood of being engaged in actual combat. So all this talk about US Forces being subject to restrictive rules of engagement while accompanying Philippine troops in pursuit of insurgents is nothing but quibbling.

To further prove my point that indeed US Forces participate in Philippine military operations, the following passage in a January 15, 2009 Congressional Research Service (public policy research arm of the United States Congress) report entitled Republic of the Philippines: Background and US Relations is very revealing:

In 2005, the Philippines and the United States developed and implemented combined operations against elements of Abu Sayyaf operating in western Mindanao and Jolo. The operation apparently had three objectives: (1)neutralize Abu Sayyaf-Jemaah Islamiyah training; (2) kill or capture leaders of Abu Sayyaf; and (3) root out the Abu Sayyaf forces and organization on Jolo in a similar fashion as the successfulcampaign on Basilan in 2002. The U.S. role in western Mindanao reportedly involved intelligence and communications support of the AFP, including the employment of U.S. P-3 surveillance aircraft; deployment of Navy Seal and Special Forces personnel with AFP ground units; and rules restricting U.S. personnel to a non-combat role (although such rules normally would allow U.S.personnel to defend themselves if attacked)
Note the objective of capturing and killing leaders of Abu Sayyaf and the deployment of Navy Seal and special forces personnel with AFP ground units (in boldface). US Special Forces units will accompany Philippine soldiers in undertaking missions to capture or kill Abu Sayyaf leaders or in neutralizing them. Any sensible person would know that such a dangerous mission would entail combat or actual military hostilities. Surely, these Navy Seal units won't only shout advises to Filipino soldiers while taking fire from insurgents! As also noted above, they would be allowed to defend themselves. But if the mission is to actively seek out and exteminate insurgents, the phrase self-defense appears contradictory.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A Brief Biography of Benigno S. Aquino, Jr.

(In honor of the sacrifices and martyrdom of Ninoy - who was mortally felled by an assassin's bullet 26 years ago today - I am linking an article on Ninoy's brief biography)

Ninoy Aquino's martyrdom galvanized the Filipinos to unite and rise in opposition against former President Ferdinand Marcos, which restored democracy in the Philippines.

Born on November 27, 1932, Benigno S. Aquino, Jr. - popularly known as Ninoy - was destined to become a political leader in the Philippines. He traced his lineage from people who have worked with some of the country's well-known leaders. Gen. Servillano Aquino, his grandfather, became a general of the Philippines' first president, Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo. Benigno Aquino, Sr., his father, served under President Manuel L. Quezon and became a Speaker of the House under the presidency of Jose P. Laurel.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

No Fully-Automated Elections in 2010

UP Law Professor Harry Roque and the Concerned Citizens Movement (CCM) have been at the receiving end of criticisms ever since they filed a petition before the Supreme Court(SC)questioning the legality of fully-automated elections in May 2010. Although clearly expressing their position that they favor automated elections, Harry Roque and CCM's move is seen as abetting the agents of electoral fraud who thrive under our antiquated manual election system.

One of the major objections posed by Roque and CCM is the holding of a nationwide automated elections in May 2010. According to Roque and CCM, Republic Act 9369 (law amending the Poll Modernization Act or RA 8436) mandates Comelec to pilot test poll automation first by holding it in selected cities and provinces only for the coming national and local elections. A closer reading of RA 9369 will show that Roque and CCM are merely acting as proponents of the rule of law.

We were led to think that Congress finally crafted a mandate for full automation in the coming 2010 elections, but a review of the amendatory law will reveal that it provides for a hybrid election (partly automated and partly manual) only. The pertinent section of the law that justifies this assertion is as follows:

SEC. 6. Section 6 of Republic Act No. 8436 is hereby amended to read as follows:

"SEC. 5 Authority to Use an Automated Election System. - To carry out the above-stated policy, the Commission on Elections, herein referred to as the Commission, is hereby authorized to use an automated election system or systems in the same election in different provinces, whether paper-based or a direct recording electronic election system as it may deem appropriate and practical for the process of voting, counting of votes and canvassing/consolidation and transmittal of results of electoral exercises: Provided, that for the regular national and local election, which shall be held immediately after effectivity of this Act, the AES shall be used in at least two highly urbanized cities and two provinces each in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, to be chosen by the Commission: Provided, further, That local government units whose officials have been the subject of administrative charges within sixteen (16) month prior to the May 14, 2007 election shall not be chosen: Provided, finally, That no area shall be chosen without the consent of the Sanggunian of the local government unit concerned. The term local government unit as used in this provision shall refer to a highly urbanized city or province. In succeeding regular national or local elections, the AES shall be implemented nationwide."

Notice the "provided clause" in the foregoing. It talks about the conduct of national and local elections in May 2010, which provides for automated elections (AES) in at least two highly urbanized cities and two provinces for each of the country's major islands. Comelec is given the authority to choose the appropriate cities and provinces, subject to the following criteria: (1) the Sanggunian or local legislative body of the chosen cities and provinces must consent to their designation for the conduct of automated elections; and (2) the officials of the designated cities and provinces must not have been administratively charged within 16 months before the May 2007 elections.

In other words, the amendatory law mandates Comelec to conduct automated elections in 2010 in certain selected areas only. It may be argued that the word "at least" in section 6 authorizes Comelec to hold automated elections in more than two cities and provinces as such phrase only sets the minimum. And more than two could practically mean covering all cities and provinces in the country which would in fact make automation nationwide. But that would be reading into the law something not contemplated by it. First, that would mean requiring the consent of the Sanggunian of every city and province in the country, which is of course ridiculous for why would the law prescribe such consent requirement if after all every city and province would be involved. Besides, the provinces and cities could clearly defeat automation by withholding consent. Second, a nationwide automation is clearly not contemplated by limiting it to cities and provinces whose officials have not been subjected to administrative charges before the 2007 elections. Surely, there are cities and provinces the officials of which have been administratively charged.

The last sentence of section 6 states that AES will be implemented on a nationwide basis in regular elections after the 2010 elections. Now if the 2010 elections are meant to be fully-automated, why would Congress even bother inserting this last sentence? The clear implication is that a fully-automated election is only allowed in regular elections succeeding the 2010 elections.

Another provision of RA 9369 which reveals the intent of Congress on partial automation is the following section:

SEC. 31. Section 25 of Republic Act No. 7166 is hereby amended to read as follows:

"Sec 25. Manner of Counting Votes. - In addition to the requirement in the fourth paragraph of Section 12 of the Republic Act No. 6646 and Section 210 of the Omnibus Election Code, in reading the official ballots during the counting, the chairman, the poll clerk and the third member shall assume such positions as to provide the watchers and the members of the public as may be conveniently accommodated in the polling place, an unimpeded view of the ballot being ready by the chairman, of the election return and the tally board being simultaneously accomplished by the, poll clerk and the third member respectively, without touching any of these election documents. The table shall be cleared of all unnecessary writing paraphernalia. Any violation of this requirement shall constitute an election offense punishable under Section 263 and 264 the Omnibus Election Code.
"The chairman shall first read the votes for national positions.
"Any violation of this Section, or its pertinent portion, shall constitute an election offense and shall be penalized in accordance with Batas Pambansa Blg. 881.

The above section, as well as section 12 of RA 6646 or the Electoral Reforms Law of 1987 and section 210 of the Omnibus Election Code as referred to therein, provide for the manner in counting of votes at the precinct level under a manual election system. It is accomplished with the chairman of the Board of Election Inspectors tediously reading the names of all candidates voted in every ballot. If it were the intention of Congress to provide for full automation come 2010, the above section 31 would surely be out of place since in an automated election either the ballots are brought to a central counting center where they are fed to counting machines or the votes on every ballot are counted as they are fed to voting machines which will then electronically transmit the results for consolidation, or by any other methodology as the voting machines permit and as determined by Comelec, but certainly it will not be in the antiquated manner provided by section 31, which is prone to cheating and election protests.

Section 31 is clearly intended to govern the manner of counting of votes in areas where AES is not implemented in 2010. These will be the cities and provinces which will not be designated by Comelec for computerized elections. And this is only possible in partially-automated elections. As for areas covered by AES, Comelec is authorized under section 18 to provide for the procedure in the automated counting of votes.

If the 2010 elections proceed under a fully automated mode, as it is being pursued by Comelec right now, losing candidates could find refuge under RA 9369 in asking for the nullification of the elections. Imagine the results of an entire election being invalidated for having been conducted in violation of law. This would be a surefire recipe for a constitutional crisis of huge magnitude that would throw the whole country in chaos. So Roque and CCM are actually doing us a favor in questioning as early as now the legality of a fully-automated elections in 2010.

But there is still hope for nationwide automated elections even if the SC were to rule against full automation in 2010. Congress could easily amend RA 9369 by removing the partial and qualified application of the AES as it now stands. If President Macapagal-Arroyo is really true to her pronouncements of favoring fully-automated elections in 2010, she could as easily certify as urgent an amendatory bill that Congress would pass.

Now if Roque and CCM are proven wrong, as I will be, then we could all concentrate on becoming vigilant to ensure the conduct of honest, orderly and peaceful fully-automated elections in May 2010.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Free Speech is the Casualty in Punishing Willie Revillame

The Movie Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) has once again shown its penchant for curtailing free speech rights by mulling over the imposition of sanctions against Wowowee television show host Willie Revillame. Last Monday, Revillame expressed his objection to the showing of live feeds on Cory Aquino's funeral cortege during a segment of the popular noontime show. He asked for the removal of the feeds for being inappropriate and distracting.

Apparently riding on the tide of public outrage against Revillame, MTRCB Chairwoman Consoliza Laguardia said Revillame violated Presidential Decree 1986 (the law creating the MTRCB)and the KBP (Kapisanan ng mga Broadcaster sa Pilipinas) Code. Notice the haste and prematurity with which Laguardia has spoken; already, the MTRCB through its chairwoman pronounced its judgment even before the besieged showman was given the opportunity to defend his actions.

But not only is the MTRCB disregarding Revillame's due process rights, it is also arranging to violate his free speech rights by imposing sanctions for his conduct which, although distasteful and inappropriate, is a function of democracy. However objectionable Revillame's statement may be, the fact of the matter is there is nothing in either his conduct or statements that would justify MTRCB in imposing sanctions on him, for he was free to express how he felt about the mixing of the funeral procession with his game show.

Speech under our laws can only be regulated or punished if it passes a strict scrutiny test. Not long ago, Chavez v. Gonzalez made it abundantly clear that this test applies with equal vigor in the broadcast media - which is a dramatic departure from American jurisprudence from where we imported our concept of free speech. The Supreme Court in this case did away with the differentiation between print and broadcast media in the application of the strict scrutiny standard in content-based regulation of speech. Under this test, speech can only be regulated if it creates or is likely to create a clear and present danger of a grave and imminent evil which the government has the right to prevent. The government must show a compelling or overriding interest that would justify curtailment of speech.

There is nothing in the statement or conduct of Revillame that would even remotely suggest such clear and present danger. It may be in bad taste, but to say that the government has an overriding or compelling interest to prevent or punish such speech is downright ridiculous. Revillame's gaffe is the stuff of 24/7 news that thrive on controversy rather than of state interest.

In fact, a review of section 3 of PD 1986, which is being relied upon by MTRCB, would show that there is nothing that would make Revillame's case fall squarely. Said section enumerates the powers of the MTRCB and the instances upon which it may exercise its power to approve, disapprove or otherwise censor objectionable movie and television shows. Specifically, the section empowers MTRCB to regulate or prohibit media materials constituting sedition or rebellion, which glorifies criminals and condones crimes, solely satisfies market for violence and pornography, abets the traffic and use of prohibited drugs, are libelous or defamatory, or constitutes contempt of court. None of these instances cover Revillame's statement and conduct.

It is true that good Filipino customs dictate respect for the departed, but I find it hard to understand how requesting the removal of the coverage of a funeral procession in a game show - without a doubt out of place and timing in the show - could constitute such disrespect. If there is anyone who was disrespectful it was the director of the show, and not Revillame, for including or allowing the inclusion of the former president's funeral cortege during a merrymaking portion of the game show. Revillame may be guilty of insensitivity for proceeding with his show like it was business as usual at a time of national mourning, but his act of not allowing the mixing of a somber occasion with an entertaining game show was actually the right thing to do under the circumstances. He should have, however, requested the removal discreetly and should not have needlessly publicized his disgust.

Former President Corazon Aquino became our beloved icon of democracy when she stood to fill the place of Ninoy after being felled by an assassin's bullet. She led the fight to restore our democracy which gave us the freedom to speak our minds. Punishing Revillame for his inappropriate statement - which is certainly not a "crass attempt to desecrate the memory" of the former president, as her family's spokesperson Lourdes Dy Sytangco characterizes it - would be a disregard of the cherished right which Ninoy and Cory fought for.