Just days after Philippine prizewinning poet and dramatist Bienvenido Lumbera caught a Naval Intelligence Security Force agent spying on him outside his home, another Philippine intellectual has come forward with allegations of government spying. Pedro “Jun” Cruz Reyes, professor of creative writing at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City, said he has been the subject of surveillance investigations by government agents since 2006.

Speaking at a press conference in Manila, Reyes detailed numerous instances when he was followed by unknown individuals, had his picture taken surreptitiously in public, or saw unidentified men dressed in black jackets trying to enter his apartment in an apparent “black bag” operation in 2007. Later that year, Reyes said that a group of men dressed in military fatigues and ski masks visited the house of one of his neighbors and apparently offered him money in exchange for information on Reyes’s whereabouts and activities.

Routine Illegality

Reyes says he decided to step forward because the surveillance and harassment against him is “assuming a more definite form”, something which is corroborated by the case of Bienvenido Lumbera. The poet, an exiled dissident during the US-backed[1] dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, who has taught creative writing at a host of Philippine and Japanese universities, said at least three men were seen taking pictures of his Quezon City home early in the morning of September 17, 2009. One of them was eventually apprehended by private security guards and turned over to the police. He was later identified as Cprl. Hannival Mondido Guerrero, a Naval Intelligence Security Force trainee, who officials later admitted was participating in a “surveillance training” exercise.

Such incidents are not a new phenomenon in the Philippines. In 2005, the US State Department noted[2] in its annual human rights report that the Philippines National Police was the country’s “worst abuser of human rights” and that government security elements often “sanction extrajudicial killings and vigilantism”. However, the report adds that these practices are utilized “as expedient means of fighting crime and terrorism”, which may explain why no discernable action has been taken by US authorities to prevent them.

Rewarding Abuse

philippines-militaryIn fact, since 9/11, Washington has responded to the increasing abuses of human rights in the Philippines by rewarding the government of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, through expanding bilateral ties based primarily on security arrangements. In October of 2003, the Bush Administration designated the Philippines as a Major Non-NATO Ally, a distinction conferred to several other military-security states, including Kuwait, Bahrain, Morocco and Pakistan. More importantly, President Arroyo’s regime was rewarded by the deployment of US troops in the country, who have been increasingly active since 2003 in assisting government forces fight a brutal conflict against Muslim Moro ethnic rebels and the Abu Sayyaf Group in the south. As we have noted[3] before, Washington “is desperate to maintain its logistical and military oversight of the operation, not only in the context of Washington’s focus on Southeast Asia, but also because of the logistical ties between the Philippines and Iraq, as well as Iran (several thousand Filipinos live and work in the Middle East).

So important is the US military presence in the country that CIA director Leon Panetta paid a rare unannounced visit to President Arroyo last July, “to discuss security concerns and to map out ways to further strengthen the bilateral partnership between the Philippines and United States”[4]. Writing about the closed-door talks, Philippine commentator Ramon Farolan said that “CIA directors don’t make social visits to any place, and frankly, I can’t recall any CIA director ever visiting the Philippines”[5]. Meanwhile, activists protesting against a rumored unconstitutional attempt by President Arroyo to run for a third term in office, said they caught eight men spying on them on behalf of the Armed Forces of the Philippines[6]. But the controversy about Arroyo’s possible unconstitutional aspirations did not appear to trouble Washington, which shortly afterwards dispatched to Manila Senate Intelligence Committee member Senator Bill Nelson to discuss “anti-terrorism and development efforts”[7].

“Helping” the Philippines

Just hours following Nelson’s departure from Manila, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he had “decided” to keep in the country the 600-member Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines force, “despite pressure to reassign its members to fulfill urgent needs elsewhere, like in Afghanistan or Iraq”, according to The New York Times[8]. Later that month it was also revealed that the Philippines is hosting secret bases in which employees of US private contractor Blackwater (recently renamed Xe) are “training mercenaries for covert operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere”[9].

Commenting on the continuing presence of US troops in the Philippines, Admiral Timothy Keating, commander of US forces in the Pacific, humbly admitted to The New York Times that “[t]he successes we enjoy, and the gains, can tend to anesthetize us a little bit”. Colonel Bill Coultrup, who commands the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines, said his troops were making a difference in the country by “helping give a better life to the citizens: good governance, better health care, a higher standard of living”[10].

Presumably the very real possibility of US-trained Philippine intelligence agents using their expertise to spy on and terrorize political dissidents, including university professors and intellectuals, does not concern US military commanders. Alternatively, if it does, it is probably inferred under “[t]he successes we enjoy”, according to Admiral Keating. How else are we to explain the fact that the worsening human rights situation in the Philippines, paralleled with fears of a possible unconstitutional takeover by Gloria Arroyo, appear to result in strengthening security ties between Washington and Manila?

Cold War Mentality

The alarming US response to the deterioration of democracy in the Philippines is hardly unique. It falls right within Washington’s practice of ignoring political violence and human rights abuses in order to secure wider geopolitical objectives. This concrete tendency was an integral feature of the Cold War, a global rivalry between the US and the Soviet Union in which the two superpowers competed neck and neck in recklessness and shortsightedness, which in several instances nearly ended human civilization. Washington’s handling of its relations with Manila is indicative of America’s continuing reliance on Cold War practices.

Last week, the Chinese government denounced the 2009 US National Intelligence Strategy report because it singled out Iran, North Korea, China and Russia as nations with the ability to challenge US interests. In Beijing’s words, the report, which is published annually by America’s 16 intelligence agencies, is “stuffed with outdated pride and prejudice” and “reflects typical Cold War and power politics mentality”[11]. The US should take heed, before its ongoing actions in Southeast Asia and elsewhere begin to give credence to the words of a corrupt and immoral regime, such as that of China.

Joseph Fitsanakis and Ian Allen

Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis holds a PhD in the politics of intelligence and has authored and lectured widely on subjects relating to intelligence practice and reform. Ian Allen spent nearly twenty-five years working in intelligence-related fields, and is now active in intelligence consulting. They are both editors of intelNews.org.

[1] R. Broad et al. (eds) (1990) The Philippines: US Policy During the Marcos Years, 1965-1986, The National Security Archive, George Washington University, Washington, DC, December.

[2] Anon. (2005) 2004 County Reports on Human Rights Practices: Philippines, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, US Department of State, 28 February.

[3] I. Allen (2009) “Ulterior Motives in Panetta-Arroyo Meeting”, intelNews, 14 July.

[4] Anon. (2009) “Philippines President to meet CIA chiefintelNews, 10 July.

[5] Anon. (2009) “What did CIA director Panetta tell Philippine President Arroyo?intelNews, 21 July.

[6] Anon. (2009) “Philippine protesters allege military surveillanceintelNews, 30 July.

[7] Anon. (2009) “Second ranking US intelligence official to visit PhilippinesintelNews, 21 August.

[8] T. Shanker (2009) “US Military to Stay in PhilippinesThe New York Times, 20 August.

[9] Anon. “Blackwater training foreign mercenaries in the PhilippinesintelNews, 31 August.

[10] T. Shanker (2009) “US Military to Stay in PhilippinesThe New York Times, 20 August.

[11] Anon. “China says US intelligence report shows Cold War prejudiceintelNews, 25 September.