AFP camp in Rio Hondo, Zamboanga will host US troops — CPP

By CPP Information Bureau

The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) today called into question the planned construction of a new PhP3.2 billion (US$72.9 million) military camp of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in Zamboanga City. The CPP said it is likely that the camp is set to host and provide security for US soldiers and military hardware.

“There is ample reason to believe that the planned AFP camp, which will also provide space for the police and the Coast Guard, is nothing but a new US military base, to be constructed in accordance with the recently signed Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) where the US will be allowed to set up facilities in so-called ‘agreed locations’ within AFP camps,” said the CPP.

The AFP’s Camp Navarro in Zamboanga City has long served as the headquarters of the US Pacific Command’s 700-strong Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P). The JSOTF-P started reducing its forces last June and is scheduled to shut down its operations by the end of 2014. US military presence and operations in the Philippines, however, are set to be stepped-up over the next several years with the recent signing of the EDCA. The US is eyeing several strategic locations in the Philippines for the deployment of its troops and war materiel, including naval ports in Palawan and Zamboanga.

The planned construction of a new military camp was announced by AFP chief Gen. Gregorio Catapang who claimed that the new camp will help deter armed attacks in the future, referring to the entry of MNLF fighters in Zamboanga in September 2013 which preceded the AFP’s three-week all-out siege. The military camp will be constructed in Barangay (village) Rio Hondo, a coastal town where tens of thousands of people were forced out last year by the AFP’s shelling and aerial bombing.

“The people of Zamboanga vigorously oppose the planned construction of a camp in the land where once stood their homes,” said the CPP. “It is a grave insult to the people of Zamboanga that the AFP will build a camp where AFP bombs and artillery fire destroyed homes, mosques, commercial stores, buildings and other structures where tens of thousands of people live and work.”

“Recall how the AFP unleashed excessive force and spent millions of pesos in bombs and bullets to systematically raze to the ground several residential barangays and drive away hundreds of thousands of people area in the name of ‘forcing out the MNLF’ in a dispropritionate use of firepower,” said the CPP.

At least 120,000 people from the villages of Rio Hondo, Sta. Barbara, Lustre, Mariki and Campo Muslim were driven away from their homes and forced to stay in evacuation centers. Over the next few months, the people were prevented from returning to their homes and their sources of livelihood.

“It is now becoming increasingly apparent that the all-out siege launched by the AFP in Zamboanga City last year was carried out with the objective of driving away the people from their homes in order for the city government of Zamboanga to claim the land for commercial and military purposes,” said the CPP.

While tens of thousands of families suffered in subhuman conditions in evacuation centers, the city government of Zamboanga proceeded to parcel out the lands for commercial infrastructure projects under Aquino’s public-private partnership program. A large part of the land has also been allotted to the AFP.