The Mindanao Examiner, Sept. 22, 2008
"It's same process with AFP tour of duty" — WesMinCom chief
ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines - The United States armed forces being temporarily deployed to southern Philippines are due for rotation for the next two to three weeks.
This is the statement of Marine Lt. Gen. Nelson Allaga, chief of the Western Mindanao Command, in a phone interview. Allaga stressed that "the US forces are here on a temporary basis, and upon invitation of the Philippine Government."
"There really is nothing suspicious about it. It is a simple turn-over of personnel who have been on tour of duty here in the Philippines for a short time, and for personnel who will be on tour of duty also for a short period," the 3-star Marine general said. "It's the same process with the AFP, actually, and is just a normal replacement of troops."
The WesMinCom commander, who is now in the country's capital region, shared that he was called to appear before the Senate by Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago.
Allaga said Task Force Comet chief Marine Maj. Gen. Juancho Sabban has already sent him facsimiles of resolutions from some Jolo-based groups resisting the presence of US forces in Sulu province.
"The issue here is transparency, and the US military has been transparent in their assistance and support not only to the AFP but even to the PNP," he said.
The WesMinCom chief the cited the training conducted by the US military for the Philippine National Police forces twice in Jolo, and once in Zamboanga City for the entire Police Regional Office 9.
"We soldiers and policemen are benefiting from the trainings that the JSOTFP is conducting for us. We do projects for communities together, and in some places, there are many civilians helping us out. In fact, there are more supporters than critics," Gen. Allaga stated.
In a separate interview, Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines commander Col. William Coultrup said, "During the next couple of weeks, the people of Zamboanga will notice more US military cargo aircraft flying in and out of the airport in Zamboanga City."
"This is the end of the short-term deployment for some of the US military that have been here in Mindanao assisting the AFP," he added.
The Western Mindanao Command yesterday issued a general statement stating that, "In the course of the standard rotation of temporarily deployed US military personnel, a number of US troops in the southern Philippines will be changing over. This normal rotation is necessary due to the temporary nature of the US military presence in the Southern Philippines.
During this time, there will be an increase in the number of US aircraft flying in and out of the airport in Zamboanga City. This rotation will not affect the overall number of US troops in the Philippines. The troops arriving in the Philippines will replace the same number of troops returning to their home bases."
"There will be other troops coming in to start their temporary stay here at the request of the Government of the Philippines in order to support new projects that we have jointly planned with WestMinCom," Coultrup, a US Army colonel, said.
US TROOPS MERELY REPLACED
In a separate interview at the WesMinCom Headquarters, WesMinCom deputy spokesman Captain Rommel Miguel elaborated that "the rotation policy of the US military is always done every six months."
Some of the American soldiers will be arriving on board a C-17, others on the C-130 along with some of the equipment that the Philippine Armed Forces have requested to facilitate the infrastructure and engineering projects that are projected to be done as part of the two military allies' joint support for education in southern Philippines. Other soldiers will also be coming in on board commercial flights, he said.
"We are going through our normal troop rotation, so from now until October 3, there will be US military cargo aircraft coming and going," added JSOTFP Public Affairs Officer Maj. Kenneth Hoffman who is himself leaving the Philippines as he too will be replaced.
"Some of the US troops will be leaving and their equipment will also be getting out, so they will be replaced by the same number of troops and equipment relieving them," said WesMinCom deputy spokesman Captain Rommel Miguel.
The US military has been providing support to the Philippine Armed Forces for decades now. Such alliance was established under the Mutual Defense Treaty of 1951, and affirmed by the Visiting Forces Agreement.
The US has similar support with some other Asian nations, and has also manifested alliance in providing regional support to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), especially following the ASEAN Convention on Terrorism.
"I am grateful for all the support and help that Lt. Gen. (Nelson) Allaga and the AFP have provided to the US military. Our troops look forward to working with and learning from the AFP in the future," JSOTFP commander Col. Coultrup concluded. (Frencie L. Carreon)