The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Sunday confirmed that it sought the assistance of the United States as Filipino troops continue to battle Islamist militants in Marawi City.
“We asked for their (Americans’) assistance because we do not have the kind of technical capability we sought. If we had it, we would not have done so,” Brig.Gen. Restituto Padilla, spokesman of the AFP, said in a text message.
“Congress can further allocate resources and strengthen the Armed Forces so that we will have the capabilities we seek to defeat enemies of the Republic faster. In that situation, it will make it unnecessary for the Armed Forces to ask help from allies,” Padilla added.
On Saturday, the US Embassy in Manila said that the United States, at the request of the Philippine government, dispatched its special operations forces to provide technical assistance to Philippine soldiers fighting members of the Maute terror group in Marawi.
Journalists covering the siege have reported seeing a US P3 Orion surveillance plane flying over Marawi on Friday.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana also confirmed that the US is providing technical assistance to help Filipino troops end the Marawi siege.
National Security Adviser and former Armed Forces Chief Hermogenes Esperon said the provision of assistance should not be a surprise because the US has always helped the Philippines in its counter-terrorism programs.
Malacañang also acknowledged that the US is helping the Philippine military but the assistance is limited to intelligence gathering and technical support.
“We have standing protocols which are already in place under the Mutual Defense Board-Security Engagement Board with the US under the purview of the PH-US Mutual Defense Treaty of 1951. It does not involve any boots on the ground nor is there any direct participation in combat operations, a matter prohibited by law,” presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said in a statement.
“The fight against terrorism is not only the concern of the Philippines or the United States but it is a concern of many nations around the world. The Philippines is open to assistance from other countries if they offer it,” he added.
‘We can manage’
President Rodrigo Duterte on Sunday grudgingly thanked the US for its assistance.
“Maski wala man silang tulong. Pero meron. Nagpapasalamat ako, nariyan na rin (It would have been fine without them. But they helped us. I thank them),” Duterte said after visiting wounded soldiers who fought Maute terrorists in Cagayan de Oro.
“I’ve never approached any American. I am not aware of that until they arrived. But to say that…kaya naman natin (we would have managed). Look at this one, he is ready to come back [in Marawi],” Duterte added, referring to a soldier in the audience.
Last year, President Rodrigo Duterte expressed his disgust over the presence of American troops in the country, saying “they have to go.”
“Those (US) special forces, they have to go. There are many white (people) there. They have to go. There are many whites there. If they (insurgents) see an American, they would kill him. They would demand ransom then kill him. Even if you’re a black or white American, as long as you are an American, (they will kill you),” he said of US troops stationed in Mindanao.
In September 2016, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said in a congressional briefing that the 107 US troops in Mindanao are part of the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P) that provides immediate medical assistance to Filipino soldiers wounded in the battlefield.
The JSOTF-P operates under the auspices of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Philippines and the US—a pact that allows US troops to train and advise the Philippine military in its fight against terrorists but bans US forces in combat operations.
Some senators expressed no objection to the involvement of US Special Forces in the military operations in Marawi City.
Sen. Gregorio Honasan, head of the national defense and security committee, said the assistance being provided by the US is limited to technical information and equipment support to Filipino troops.
“We honor our troops, relief effort volunteers and government agencies involved in the Marawi clearing recovery and rehabilitation operations,” Honasan said.
Senator Panfilo Lacson shared Honasan’s stance.
“As long as the involvement involves technical assistance and providing intelligence information, the support of the US military should be a welcome move,” said Lacson, chairman of the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs.
Senator Francis Escudero agreed that US troops cannot engage in actual combat missions and operations.
“They can only serve in a technical or advisory capacity under existing laws and treaties,” he said.