No R & R: US troops in PH restricted to camps – military general
ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines – US troops stationed under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) can not set foot outside the camp of the Western Mindanao Command here unless their trip is related to the very reason they are here for.
This was made clear by Lt. Gen. Mayoralgo dela Cruz, Westmincom commander, who said he has prohibited US troops – whose numbers he did not divulge – from venturing out for any reason, even for recreational purposes.
This meant, he said, that they could not go to bars here or other areas to unwind. If they have to relax, they can do it inside the Westmincom camp, according to Dela Cruz.
“They will just stay here. To train our troops,” he said.
Dela Cruz said the ban – which was anchored on security for both US forces and their Filipino counterparts – was also the same reason they could not go to Basilan or Sulu to train Filipino soldiers.
“We will bring our troops here. I don’t want the focus of our operations affected just because of on-site trainings,” he said, adding that troops in the provinces were pre-occupied with military operations against the Abu Sayyaf and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.
US forces would be allowed to venture out of camp during marksmanship training in, for example, Barangay Cabatangan and civil-military operations for humanitarian reasons.
“The American forces will be staying inside the camp,” he said.
Dela Cruz said the ban was made clear to the US forces.
Militant groups had been complaining that the presence of US troops in the country would result in human rights violations – or worse, crimes such as the murder of transgender Jennifer Laude.
Laude was killed by Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton, a member of the US Marines, who went on a rest and recreation tour in Olongapo in October 2014.
Dela Cruz said the US troops here would not be given time to visit recreational areas so as not to distract them from their focus of boosting the skills of Filipino troops in fighting their enemies and helping save the lives of Filipino troops wounded during operations.
The American soldiers, mostly trained in medic and first aid, would “help save the lives of our wounded troops,” Dela Cruz added.
Dela Cruz, meanwhile, said that the presence of US troops has expanded the security challenges faced by the military already fighting insurgencies by the communist rebels and Moro splinter groups but the Armed Forces of the Philippines has been adjusting to bigger responsibilities as mandated by the Supreme Court.
“The Supreme Court said Edca (Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement) was constitutional and we on the ground only follow whatever policy we are supposed to implement,” he said. SFM
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