Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Ricardo Visaya on Wednesday said he would support President Rodrigo Duterte despite the latter’s call to pull-out US troops in Mindanao.
Visaya made this statement before the House of Representatives appropriations committee hearing the Department of National Defense’s proposed P178.2 billion budget for 2017.
Kabayan Rep. Harry Roque asked Visaya if the AFP would support Duterte’s independent foreign policy and his advice of pulling out US troops, even though American forces have greatly helped Philippine soldiers especially in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations against terrorists in Mindanao.
Duterte had called for the pull-out of American troops in Mindanao warning that they may be subjected to reprisal by the Moro given the island region’s history of American brutalities during the 1900’s pacification campaign.
“Does the armed forces now stand behind the president’s independent foreign policy, including his advice for US troops to leave Mindanao?” Roque asked.
Visaya said he has talked to the President about the statement and that the President meant only to ensure the safety of American troops who were perceived as high-value targets of terrorists.
“His concerns are the safety and security of the troops,” Visaya said.
But as for Duterte’s stance about US troops and an independent foreign policy, Visaya said: “He’s our commander-in-chief. We’re always behind him.”
Meanwhile, Kabataan Rep. Sarah Elago asked Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana if the department would comply with Duterte’s call to pull-out US troops from Mindanao.
“Sa plano ng pag-pu-pull out ng troops sa Mindanao, napag-usapan ba kung kailan inaasahan ang pull-out ng mga troops na ito?” Elago asked Lorenzana.
(Regarding the plan to pull out troops from Mindanao, has it been settled when this will take place?)
Instead of giving a categorical answer, Lorenzana said the US troops are helping Filipino soldiers gather intelligence information against terrorists.
“Kaya sila nandiyan kasi wala tayong capabilities na ginagawa nila ngayon (They are there because we don’t have the capabilities to do what they are doing now). I think we requested them to stay behind there to manage and to provide us with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance because they have these equipment,” Lorenzana said.
Lorenzana said as of now, there are only 107 US troops in Mindanao, particularly in Zamboanga city where they manage their assets there.
“At present there are 107 US troops in Zamboanga. At the height of their presence in the Philippines, 10 or 5 years ago, there were 600 embedded to the units as far as brigade level,” Lorenzana said.
Lorenzana also refuted Duterte’s statement that US forces are legitimate targets of terrorists in Mindanao, clarifying that American soldiers were well-armed and were usually confined in military camps, making it unlikely for them to be kidnapped by bandit groups.
“Yung fears ni Presidente (The President’s fears) that they night be subjected to reprisal of the Muslims, hindi naman siguro mangyayari yun (that’s improbable)… Nasa kampo lang sila (They stay in the camps). They won’t go out of their camps mag-isa lang sila (alone), or they’re also armed,” Lorenzana said.
“Let’s remember, these people are also combatants. They are not civilians subject to kidnapping,” he added. CDG