Kabataan Partylist Rep. Terry Ridon filed a resolution on Monday urging a House panel to investigate the circumstance of death of 17 US servicemen that died while serving under the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P), an elite team of US troopers stationed in the country until recently.
In House Resolution No. 1954, Ridon called on the House Committee on National Defense, to “conduct an investigation, in aid of legislation, on the performance and activities of the JSOTF-P, a special forces program of the United States which ran from 2002 until 2015, that allowed US troops to participate in combat operations, build structures, preposition equipment, etc., despite clear prohibitions of the 1987 Philippine Constitution.”
The JSOTF-P was established by the Special Operations Command Pacific (SOCPAC) in July 2002, as part of Operation Enduring Freedom-Philippines (OEF-P). The SOCPAC operates under the command of the United States Pacific Command. The OEF-P was said to be the response of the Philippine government in a US-led worldwide campaign against terrorism following the 9/11 attack in 2001.
According to a mission factsheet from the US Embassy, the JSOTF-P is comprised of 500-600 US personnel from Army Special Operations Forces, Navy Seals, Air Force special operators and support staff, who were tasked to aid the Armed Forces of the Philippines in a “strictly non-combat role to defeat terrorists, eliminate safe havens and create the conditions necessary for peace, stability and prosperity in the Southern Philippines” at the request of the Philippine government.
Last Tuesday, February 24, the JSOTF-P announced that it will be departing the country and will be formally ending their 13-year stay in the country.
“The JSOTF-P is one of the most controversial US military programs in the Philippines. Several whistleblowers, including former Navy officer Lt. Senior Grade Nancy Gadian, have revealed that this special US force engage in direct combat in Mindanao. As such, we cannot just let them depart without conducting a review of the program’s performance, undertakings, and their past activities with Philippine forces,” Ridon said.
17 US servicemen casualties
During the closing ceremonies which marks the conclusion of the JSTOF-P last week, a moment of silence was offered to remember “17 fallen U.S. troops” enlisted under the program.
Ridon noted that this corresponds to news reports collated over the years that show that a total of 17 U.S. troops have died while on active duty under the JSOTF-P:
- 10 U.S. forces died on February 21, 2002 after their aircraft crashed in an open sea in Southern Philippines
- On October 2002, a U.S. Special Force soldier died during a bombing incident at Camp Enrile Malagutay in Zamboanga
- On June 30, 2004 a U.S. Special Forces soldier was killed in a “non-hostile” incident in Manila
- Another US Special Forces soldier was killed in a “non-hostile” incident in Makati in October 14, 2005
- On February 15, 2007, a US Marine was said to have died in a non-hostile incident in Jolo
- A U.S. Special Forces soldier died in a drowning incident in Lake Seit in Southern Philippines on October 27, 2007
- Two U.S. Special Forces died in a blast in Jolo on September 29, 2009
“Aside from very few news reports, no sufficient information has been made available to the public regarding the deaths of the 17 U.S. troops while serving under the JSOTF-P. This casts a shadow of doubt on the real circumstances of their death and also fuel allegations that they might have indeed participated in actual combat operations,” Ridon noted in HR 1954.
“Simply labeling some of the deaths as occurring in ‘non-hostile’ incidents further spikes speculation,” Ridon said.
The legislator noted that the 1987 Constitution bans direct combat involvement of US troops. “If these US servicemen died in combat in Mindanao, then we are looking at cases of serious infringement of our sovereignty,” Ridon said.
Leaving to escape heat of Mamasapano clash?
Ridon said that the JSOTF-P’s sudden departure may be connected with the heightened criticism against the alleged US involvement in the Mamasapano clash.
“The US announced that they are pulling out the special forces as early as last year, without confirming a date. However, when the Mamasapano clash took place, here they are, immediately packing their bags.”
“There are serious allegations of US military intervention – through the JSOTF-P – in the botched Mamasapano operation. The JSOTF-P’s involvement in intelligence gathering, surveillance, and reconnaissance have been widely reported, yet the US Embassy remained mum. There are even reports of casualties on their side. All of these issues remain unresolved, leaving the Filipino public groping in the dark. This is why we cannot just let them pack their bags and go without further questioning,” Ridon said.
“A review of the JSOTF-P operations in the Philippines will reveal the extent of US military intervention in the Philippines. We cannot let an affront to our national sovereignty slip out of our islands quietly,” he ended.