Philippines Defends U.S. Military Presence
Reyes told the Filipino House of Representatives Wednesday, ”We are not going to allow the United States to impose its will on us and be coerced into doing anything against our national interest.”
“They have their interest to protect and will do everything to pursue it. We will do everything to pursue ours.”
Legislators had questioned Reyes about President Bush’s State of the Union address, in which Mr. Bush declared the U.S. would assist other countries’ efforts to root out terrorism but added, “If they do not act, America will.”
Reyes statements came as Philippine and U.S. Troops readied themselves for training exercises set to begin Thursday. The exercises are aimed at training Filipino troops to combat Islamic militants who have battled the Philippine government for years.
Some of exercises will take place on Basilan Island, 550 miles south of the Philippine capital, Manila. Guerillas from Abu Sayyaf, the Islamic militant group that the U.S. has linked to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network, are also based on the island.
Critics of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo have opposed her government’s agreement to allow the U.S. presence. They say the American deployment violates the constitution, which bars foreign combat troops on Philippine soil unless sanctioned by a formal treaty.
Defenders of the policy point to terms surrounding the operation that say the “U.S. exercise participants shall not engage in combat operations except in self-defense.”
Arroyo has also defended her decision to accept U.S. assistance.
“Republic of the Philippines troops will do the fighting,” Arroyo said. “The Americans will be there to watch and observe what is going on and provide an assessment as to where we are strong and where we are weak. They are not there for combat operations.”
Despite Arroyo’s words, opponents have taken to the streets in small numbers. Approximately 200 people demonstrated in front of the U.S. embassy Wednesday, demanding the troops be withdrawn.