THE Palace said Sunday that US forces will use part of Cagayan de Oro’s Lumbia Airport as a storage facility but not as a military base.
“We would like to clarify. The facility is a storage depot for equipment used during calamities. This is part of the HADR [humanitarian assistance and disaster relief] program which is an important element of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement [EDCA],” said Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr., in an interview over state-run radio dzRB.
“We all know that a US military base is not allowed, since we are implementing the Visiting Forces Agreement, [which allows only] a rotating presence [of military personnel],” Coloma said.
In calamities, such as typhoons and earthquakes, the facility can help to extend immediate assistance to affected communities, Coloma said.
Earlier, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin confirmed that Lumbia Airport would be converted into a US military depot.
“As a depot, the airport would be utilized for military equipment necessary for rescue operations during emergencies,” Gazmin said.
Lumbia Airport, about five kilometers southwest of Cagayan de Oro, stopped commercial operations after the opening of the new airport in Laguindingan, Misamis Oriental in 2013.
The 500-hectare airport complex, owned by the Department of Transportation and Communications, is currently home to the 10th Tactical Operations Group of the Philippine Air Force.
A pending House bill urges the national government to return the lot to the city government of Cagayan de Oro.
The government’s clarification about Lumbia Airport came amid sustained criticism from leftist groups of American involvement in Philippine affairs.
The militant League of Filipino Students on Sunday told the US government to back off after US Ambassador Philip Goldberg criticized the Senate investigation of the Mamasapano massacre in which 44 police commandos were killed, saying that sensitive information was exposed during the inquiry.
“The US should back off. They have no right to tell us what to do in our own country,” LFS National chairperson Charisse Bañez said in reaction to Goldberg’s statement.
During the Senate hearings, military officials admitted the involvement of not only US troops but also “civilian types” possibly from the Central Intelligence Agency in Operation Wolverine, an operation to neutralize high-profile terrorists.
Goldberg said such information should have been discussed in closed sessions, but the LFS said this was a way to hide the truth from the Filipino people.
“We are fully entitled to know the particulars of the Mamasapano operation. It is part of the plight of the Filipino people in seeking justice and accountability. The US does not own a single right to keep us in the dark especially because the bungled foreign-engineered operation killed our countrymen,” said Bañez.
“It is clear that the US has engineered the Mamasapano operation. The overwhelming evidence leads us to believe that they planned, funded, directed, and executed every part of it,” said Bañez.
“The US fears that more information on the depths of their involvement will be revealed further. Also, the recent statement of Goldberg implies that the Mamasapano operation is just the tip of the iceberg with regards to the intensified intervention of US in our domestic affairs and local police and military operations,” she added.
Bañez said President Benigno Aquino III must be held accountable for allowing the US to perpetually disrespect the Philippines. She added that the Filipinos are just being used as pawns for the geo-political interest of US in the Asia-Pacific region.
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