Balikatan, which means "shoulder-to-shoulder" is a
joint military exercise between Philippine and U.S. forces. It was
launched last February with the goal of enhancing the capability of
both Philippine and U.S. forces in counterterrorism.
four specific objectives are: 1) to improve the interoperability of
Philippine and U.S. forces against terrorism; 2) to enhance the
combat capability of our Southern Command, or Southcom, infantry
battalions based in Mindanao; 3) to ensure quality in intelligence
processing; and, 4) to upgrade Philippine-U.S. capability to wage
effective civil, military, and psychological operations.
exercise is within the parameters of our Constitution. It is also
within the framework of our bilateral accords with the U.S. and our
1999 Visiting Forces Agreement. It is, moreover, within the purview
of the United Nations resolution against global terrorism.
MAJORITY APPROVAL OF U.S. PRESENCE
September 11, President Arroyo was the first Asian leader to
support America's campaign against the new threat. Her leadership
was based on her moral repugnance of terrorism and the shared
values between the U.S. and the Philippines.
return, the Filipino nation is indeed grateful for the American
support in our campaign against terror. A recent national survey
showed that 84 percent of the 78 million Filipinos approve of the
U.S. presence in the country. A bipartisan consensus was also
reached on this matter within our National Security Council. The
joint exercise furthermore enjoys bicameral support from our
Congress. The opposition party is as well represented in the
Visiting Forces Agreement Commission which oversees the conduct of
majority of Filipino Muslims, who comprise around 5 percent of our
total population of 78 million, also approve of the activity. An
interfaith forum of Catholic bishops and Muslim clerics called the
Bishop-Ulama Forum (BUF) has thrown its support behind the
government's offensive against terror. The Moro National Liberation
Front has condemned the Abu Sayyaf. The head of the MNLF's
Executive Council, Dr. Parouk Hussin, who is concurrently the
governor of the new Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM),
has himself welcomed American support in our counterterrorism
our stock market has applauded the "Balikatan." Along with the
announcement of positive macro-economic results, when the first
batches of U.S. troops arrived in the Philippines, it posted a
positive from below 1,000 points to 1,400 points. Certainly, the
exercise boosted our national security. And usually, what follows
is confidence. With confidence hopefully comes investments and good
in any democracy, there will always be dissent. There is a vocal
minority including Marxist-Leninists and ultra-nationalists who,
reflexively, will always be anti-American and anti-establishment,
notwithstanding who is governing.
TERMS OF REFERENCE
Terms of Reference for the exercise were jointly crafted by the
U.S. and Philippine side. Among others, the Terms of Reference
include the following at the policy level.
the Balikatan is an exercise to advise, assist, and train the
Philippine military relative to Philippine efforts against the Abu
Sayyaf, which will be conducted in Basilan and in Zamboanga.
Related support activities are to be conducted in Cebu.
it shall be conducted and completed within a period of six months
with the participation of 660 U.S. personnel and 3,800 Philippine
only 160 U.S. troops organized in 12-man Special Forces Teams shall
be deployed with the Armed Forces of the Philippines field
the U.S. troops will not engage in combat operations, without
prejudice to their right to self-defense.
STATUS OF THE EXERCISE
"force buildup" phase and the "integration" phase of the training
exercise have been completed. An aspect of this training is on
"command and control" operations. An intelligence fusion center was
established and satellite equipment has been set up to track down
the terrorists. All U.S. forces are now effectively integrated with
the Philippine task groups and battalions. They have adequately
"acclimatized" themselves to their new area of operation.
Limited on-site training between
Philippine and U.S. forces on basic weapons and tactics has started
in some units to develop rapport and interoperability among the
troops. American experts have already trained an elite
anti-terrorism unit called the Light Reaction Company and are
training two additional units.
month, Task Force Gentle Wind was created to serve as a
coordinating mechanism for the civil-military operations. Focusing
on the community development aspect of the exercise, this Task
Force complements the activities of the government's pro-poor
programs in Basilan. Task Force Gentle Wind is coterminous with the
joint military exercise. There are currently proposals to increase
the number of U.S. troops for civic action but these are still
CAMPAIGN AGAINST THE ABU SAYYAF
went to Basilan a few weeks ago to personally assess and gain a
first-hand insight of the situation there. I found the cooperation
between the Philippine and U.S. troops outstanding. The strategy
for the rescue of the hostages is materializing. We pray that the
hostages will eventually be rescued and reunited with their loved
Military officials say that mounting
pressure has forced many Abu Sayyaf to seek sanctuary outside
Basilan, leading to a wave of arrests. The most high-profile one
was the recent arrest of two Abu Sayyaf commanders. The Abu Sayyaf
is reportedly constantly on the run, not staying in one place for
more than one hour, and have split up into smaller groups.
However, the availability of high-tech
military equipment and the assistance of American military experts
have upgraded our troops' communications, mobility, intelligence
and firepower capabilities.
Southcom commander also reported more clashes between the Abu
Sayyaf and our troops. He attributes these to a marked increase in
sightings with the aid of sophisticated equipment and improved
PEACE TALKS WITH THE MILF
government has entered into a cease fire agreement with the Moro
Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) last November in Kuala Lumpur and
peace talks have been held. Recently, the talks have stalled. Our
military has accused some MILF elements of harboring the Abu Sayyaf
and of having engaged our troops to recapture some of the camps it
lost to a government offensive in July 2000.
decided to suspend the peace talks. Instead, we have been resorting
to informal, back-room channels before formally facing each other
in the negotiating table. The Coordination Committee for the
Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) met to discuss problems associated
with the cease fire agreement.
MILF'S LINKS WITH AL-QAEDA
Prior to our cease fire agreement, the
MILF's links with al-Qaeda and other international terrorist groups
had been uncovered by our intelligence community. The MILF, like
the Abu Sayyaf, had received funds from a purported "charity
organization," the International Islamic Relief Organization
(IIRO), set up in the Philippines by Osama bin Laden's
brother-in-law, Mohammed Jamal Khalifa.
Indonesian key leader of another terrorist group called Jemaah
Islamiyah, by the name of Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi, was recently
arrested in the Philippines. He was reportedly dispatched by his
organization to Mindanao to teach demolition jobs in MILF
Within the context of these historical
links and the recent problems in the cease fire agreement,
President Arroyo strongly warned that the government will employ
all its might if the MILF undertakes terrorist and criminal
actions. While our military supports the peace talks, it will
respond quickly and forcefully against terrorist attacks. Our
presidential spokesman made clear that "no cease fire lines can be
invoked to impede hot pursuit." We will definitely be guided by
what the MILF does, and not what it says.
TRILATERAL AND REGIONAL COOPERATION
anti-terror campaign has also assumed a regional dimension. Upon
the Philippines' initiative, a draft "Agreement on Exchange of
Information and Establishment of Communication Procedures" was
negotiated among the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia last
December. It is designed as a deterrent against terrorist threats
and other transnational crimes. Thailand, Singapore, and Brunei
have shown keen interest in this agreement and we look forward to
Though the agreement is yet to be formally
signed, it is de facto in effect. An
early collaboration was prompted by the discovery of a terrorist
network called Jemaah Islamiyah operating in Malaysia, Indonesia,
and Singapore. Upon a tip from Singaporean authorities, Philippine
police arrested al-Ghozi, and a cache of weapons and explosives was
seized. During questioning, al-Ghozi admitted his participation in
the December 30, 2000, bombings in Manila. He further revealed that
the weapons and explosives being stockpiled were to be used to
attack U.S. facilities and other Western interests in
few days ago, three suspected Indonesian terrorists were arrested
in Manila. They were about to depart from our international airport
and were reportedly carrying components for improvised explosives.
U.S. FBI Director Robert Mueller said that so far, there is no
solid evidence of any al-Qaeda cell in the Philippines. However, he
expressed his concern to us that al-Qaeda members in Afghanistan
might flee from there and seek refuge in Southeast Asian
are maintaining our high state of alert and vigilance in tracking
down terrorists. As our National Security Adviser underscored,
"there is a national threat and we have to prepare; otherwise these
terrorists would go to places where the resistance is weak." We
must therefore strengthen our resistance against terrorism.
BASILAN ACCELERATED DEVELOPMENT
Poverty is the spawning ground of
terrorism. Based on the latest published human development index
(HDI) of the Philippines' 77 provinces, the last five lagging
provinces in overall HDI are all in the Muslim South.
Basilan is the province with the lowest
per capita income, the highest incidence of poverty, the lowest
literacy rate, and the highest mortality rate. Within the framework
of the Basilan Accelerated Development Strategy (BADS), the Arroyo
government's aim is to enable Basilan to uplift itself.
has redirected its priorities and is focusing its resources not
only in Basilan but in the entire Mindanao to ensure peace and
accelerate its economic transformation, especially in the
predominantly Filipino-Muslim areas. This year saw the doubling of
U.S. assistance to that region to $55 million.
ACCEPTING NEW RESPONSIBILITIES
During the World Economic Forum last
January, President Arroyo stressed the connection between poverty
and extremism. She pointed out that over one billion people, or
around 20 percent of the world's population, live on less than one
dollar a day.
Developed and developing countries alike
must therefore accept new responsibilities to address this
situation. President Arroyo stressed that developed countries must
recognize their duty to open their markets, transfer resources, and
reform international institutions. Poor countries, for their part,
must implement essential reforms without which international
assistance will do little good. President Arroyo urged them to
adopt standards of transparency and accountability and build market
economies to become real partners in investment and trade.
President Bush articulated the same point
when he recently launched the New Millennium Challenge Account. It
provides incentives to countries that undertake reforms to
eventually reduce, if not negate their need for external aid. He
emphasized that "when governments fail to meet the most basic needs
of their people, these failed states can become havens of terror."
It is therefore imperative for the international coalition against
terror to equally apply its collective force in confronting global
President Bush's latest initiative is a
giant step towards this goal. We note with appreciation that the
criteria which he cited before any country can avail itself of the
fund--specifically, a strong commitment to good governance, health
and education of the people, and sound economic policies that
foster enterprise and entrepreneurship--are key elements of the
Arroyo administration's anti-poverty program.
closing, I wish to inform you that the Philippines will participate
actively in pushing forward President Bush's new initiative.
Ambassador Albert del
Rosario is the Ambassador of the Republic of the Philippines to the