IN FEBRUARY last year, the Joint Special Operations Task Force Philippines (JSOTFP), a US-led antiterrorism group which provided training to Philippine security forces, was deactivated after 13 years in Mindanao.
US soldiers numbering between 500 and 600 were based indefinitely in the Philippines in 2011, government officials said.
The American soldiers assigned to JSOTFP work alongside the Armed Forces of the Philippines in a strictly noncombatant role. They advise and share information and conduct joint civil military operations with the AFP and some of them are in Manila performing support roles such as procurement, government officials have previously said.
The deactivation of JSOTFP came in the wake of the botched Mamasapano operation in Maguindanao province on Jan. 25, 2015, in which 44 Special Action Force (SAF) commandos, 17 Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels and three civilians were killed.
An Inquirer report said that the Mamasapano operation to get international terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan,” was directed by an American and that at least eight Americans were monitoring from the SAF command post in Shariff Aguak. The US Embassy denied the report.
JSOTFP’S deactivation, however, did not mean there would be a complete withdrawal of US military personnel from Mindanao as a new group, Forward Liaison Element, will work with the Philippine military and police “to provide operational assistance and continue the partnership in a noncombat role,” according to Col. Erick Brown, who headed the group.
In February, the six-month SAF commando course, led by US soldiers, on tactical combat care and life-saving support began.
The basing of foreign military troops in the Philippines is explicitly prohibited in the 1987 Constitution and in 1991, the Senate voted to reject a proposed new bases treaty with the United States.
But existing agreements—the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty and the 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement—have allowed US military visits in the country, including participation in the Balikatan (shoulder to shoulder) exercise.
Further, the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca), allows increased rotational presence of American troops in the country.
Edca, which reinforces the Mutual Defense Treaty, was signed in April 2014 and its constitutionality was upheld by the Supreme Court in January.
In March, five locations where American forces will have access under Edca were identified. They are Antonio Bautista Air Base in Puerto Princesa City in western Palawan province, which faces the hotly contested Spratly Islands in the South China Sea; Lumbia Air Base in Cagayan de Oro City in southern Mindanao; Basa Air Base in Floridablanca, Pampanga province; Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija province; and Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu province. Compiled by Ana Roa, Inquirer Research
Sources: Inquirer Archives
Tags: 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement, American forces, Armed Forces of the Philippines, Balikatan, Duterte, EDCA, Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, Joint Special Operations Task Force Philippines, JSOTFP, Maguindanao province, Mamasapano operation, Marwan, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, otational presence of American troops in the Philippines, Shariff Aguak, training to Philippine security forces, US-led antiterrorism group, Zulkifli bin Hir