The reporters were covering on Monday a visit by retired general Edilberto Adan, executive director of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) Commission, to the Western Mindanao Command headquarters.
The NUJP cited the "totally illegal manner" in which the American soldiers ordered the journalists to desist shooting footage right outside the task force headquarters.
According to NUJP director and Philippine Daily Inquirer correspondent Julie Alipala, an American solider supposedly told a local TV reporter, "I am ordering you not to take footages."
When another reporter asked what the basis for the order was, the American replied: "I don’t understand you but don’t make me take your camera."
When sought for comment, Westmincom spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Randolph Cabangbang said that the reporters were in a secure facility, and that "persons going there need clearance" to shoot photos or video footage.
Alipala however, pointed out that the reporters were technically outside of the Westmincom headquarters.
"Even granting Cabangbang’s explanation...[the U.S. soldiers] should have conveyed it to their local counterparts who could then have relayed these concerns to the journalists concerned," said NUJP.
“We believe that ultimate authority over the facility resides in the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine government, unless they have conceded this authority to what would then essentially be foreign occupiers,” the group added.
The NUJP added that the slight against the journalists was also a slight against the Filipino people.
“We ask the VFA Commission to conduct an investigation into this matter for this arrogant behavior of foreign visitors goes beyond mere security concerns and strikes at the very heart of our sovereignty as a nation and a people,” said the journalists’ group. “We also demand that the VFA Commission put the Americans in their proper place and warn them against any repetition of this arrogance. To let this incident pass is to abrogate our rights and liberties to foreigners.”
Hundreds of U.S. troops have been stationed in Mindanao since 2001, under the controversial VFA. TheMindanao Examiner reports that numerous complaints have been made against U.S. troops stationed in Zamboanga City, Sulu, and other parts of Mindanao but these have not been heeded by the VFA Commission.
As of press time, the U.S. has yet to issue a statement on the incident.
Women’s group: Terminate VFA
Over the weekend, the World March of Women-Philippines also came out with a statement published in the Inquirer asking President Benigno Aquino III to “give the Filipino people a genuinely ‘Merry Christmas’ by terminating the VFA.”
“We cannot really enjoy the holidays while we are kept anxious and apprehensive about the way the Presidential Commission on the VFA is reviewing the agreement and about the possibility of the review outputs coming out before the year ends,” said the statement.
“We are afraid that the commission’s decision would come like a thief in the night, as did the transfer of US Marine Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith before the end of 2006, when everybody was busy [during Christmas and New Year],” the group added, referring to the controversy when the U.S. refused to hand over custody of Smith, who was accused of raping a Filipina, to the Philippine government.
The group also said that the VFA, which has been in effect for around 11 years, “has not served the Filipino people’s interests” but has instead “put our women in greater danger of sexual violence.”
“Moreover, contrary to [Adan’s] statement last November that the VFA ‘is basically a part of what we call the national security strategy,’ [we believe] that the VFA in fact is a U.S. national security strategy, serving the U.S.’s economic interests, and abetting U.S. wars of aggression,” said the group.