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Bayan tells Aquino: “US troops already basing in PH”

The umbrella group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan today assailed President Benigno Aquino III for welcoming the increased US troop presence in the country, saying that this violates the country's sovereignty and would lead to permanent military presence. Yesterday, Aquino said that he was agreeable to more US troops, saying he wanted "more of the same" in terms of military exercises and port calls. Aquino said that his government will not allow the return of US bases.

"Apparently when it comes to US troops and the Visiting Forces Agreement, there's no 'noynoying' in Malacanang. The president is hands on and has shown unusual compliance with US impositions," said Bayan secretary general Renato M. Reyes, Jr.

"The presence of more US troops is an affront to our sovereignty. When the president says he wants more of the same, is he referring to the 600 US forces that have been permanently stationed in Mindanao for the last 10 years? Is this the kind of virtual US basing and permanent presence his government is pushing?" he asked.

Bayan said that the president's call for increased US troop presence comes amid still unresolved issues concerning the VFA. The group said that the military pact allows for an unlimited entry of US military personnel along with an unspecified duration of stay in the country. Aquino created a panel to review the VFA but no results have come out, nearly 2 years into the Aquino administration.

The militant group will lead a nationwide protest on April 16 at the opening of the Balikatan war games. Protests are expected to be held in Manila, Central Luzon and Mindanao.

"Aquino is opening the door for the virtual basing of more US troops. This goes beyond what is supposedly in the VFA, that US troops are merely visiting. From our experience the last 10 years, there has not been a day when there were no US troops in our country. The US has circumvented the constitutional prohibition on foreign bases since they are now here 24/7, 365 days a year, for the last 10 years," Reyes added.

Bayan said that another legal challenge to the VFA is possible if Malacanang continues to allow the permanent presence of US troops in the country. Bayan has consistently challenged the VFA before the SC but has not received a favorable ruling in their bid to question the pact's constitutionality.

"Right now, it is not clear how many troops are to be allowed in the country, and for how long. The Philippine and US governments conveniently take advantage of the vagueness of the VFA. There is also no transparency insofar as negotiations between Manila and Washington are concerned. The people are deliberately being kept in the dark," Reyes said.

"Aquino's reassurance that there will be no return of US bases and no permanent presence of US troops is belied by facts. The 600 US Special Force based in Zamboanga since 2002 is testament that the US troops are no longer just visitors in our country," he added.

Bayan also assailed the admission of the President that US drones are being allowed to conduct reconnaissance missions in Philippine airspace.

"The admission by the Philippine president that US drones are operating in the country for reconnaissance means that a foreign power is being allowed to spy on Filipinos and intervene in domestic affairs. These drones are under the exclusive control and operation of US forces. Their targets are known only to the US. What is to prevent the US forces from actually carrying out airstrikes similar to what they do in Pakistan?" Reyes said.  ###