The war on terrorism here in the Philippines was doing quite well, with a lot of Philippine government aid going to building the infrastructure while the military continued pressure on those unwilling to hold to the impending peace treaty with the MILF. Of course, this being the Philippines, a lot of the development money probably got diverted, but never mind.
The result was things started calming down, until two things happened: One, the Indonesians (with the help of Aussie special forces) chased their terrorists out and some of them fled to the Philippines, and two: The AbuSayyaf Group kidnapped an Italian priest and got rich.

Boys being boys, some of the MILF helped them, and when some Philippine Marines were following up a clue about one of the ASG renting a boat to go to Basilan Island, all hell broke lose, literally. The Marines were attacked, and those who didn’t get out got beheaded. There’s a lot of spin on this, but since a local news crew had photos it was hard for the MILF (who are in negotiations for a peace treaty) to spin the problem.

However, they have an ace in the hole: just get a lot of people to flee, and the NGO’s and churches and countries like Japan and Canada will insist that the government should not retaliate.

On the other hand, President Arroyo is vulnerable to a coup, and the military is mad on several levels…not only angry about the beheadings, but suspicious that someone sold off a lot of the good equipment to the MILF, so that when the Marines were attacked, the MILF had better weapons, and the Marines’ mortars didn’t work.

So anyway, President Arroyo is now proclaiming that she is going to send a lot of aid money to the region, while building up the military in the region.
One of the problems here is, of course, rain. Our local roads have to be concrete to last, and so along with all the Philippine Army movements are going some Engineers, with the idea to build a road around the Islands. Militarily, this means that they can chase rebels more easily, but it also will mean that locals will benefit by linking them more easily to the outside world. Indeed, one long range plan is to build resorts in the area to attract tourists as was done in Bohol, where the NPA influence was decreased with a similar approach combining military/development plans.
A lot of countries and NGO’s are busy with developmental projects, but little publicity has been given to the American practice of combining development projects with military projects.

So this week, a report from an Asian Think Tank  revealed contracts of the US with various civilian contractors. LINK  LINK

What is raising local eyebrows (and local tempers) is that someone said the word “BASE”.

In a little-reported development that has come to the attention of the institute, the US Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) had on June 6 awarded a six-month, $14.4-million contract to a certain “Global Contingency Services LLC” of Irving, Texas, for “operations support” for the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P). According to its own website, the engineering command is the unit within the US military in charge of providing the US Navy with “operating, support and training bases.” It “manages the planning, design, and construction and provides public works support for US Naval shore installations around the world.”

Foreign soldiers are not allowed to fight in the Philippines, and there are no foreign bases on Philippine soil. Areas like Subic Naval Base and Clark Air Force Base have been turned into local enterprise zones with the help of investment from Japan and Singapore.

The bases being built, according to the Manila Times article, will be run by Philippine citizens and only used to house soldiers who are training local soldiers, but would be available to the US to be used in case of all out war. (Osama take note).

What all this means is that the shadow war continues, with US Special Forces working with local military, and the US Navy bringing in supplies.

The use of civilian contractors is interesting. Having worked overseas, I am a little less paranoid about such things. I suspect these civilian companies got the large contract is so that less money will be diverted to local politician’s pockets. Note I said less, not no money. There are of course major scandals about US Contractors and aid money diverted in Iraq.

And I suspect that politically the anti American left might prefer private corporations hiring locals to do a lot of these things rather than having a full blown American military presence in the Philippines.

However, I am always bemused that all the paranoid bloggers go around hyperventillating about Bush’s policies, yet outside of Mother Jones, LINK2 it is hard to find a well balanced report about the pros and cons of  using private contractors by the US to support countries fighting against nasty terrorists who behead wounded soldiers, sink ferries full of civilians, and bomb fiestas and shopping centers.

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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket. 

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