CAGAYAN DE ORO, Philippines – The United States Navy surveillance aircraft P3 Orion is a constant in almost all of the Philippine military’s most dangerous operations.
The big white plane flew above Zamboanga in 2013 during the siege by the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), undeniably captured by the long lenses of wire photographers back then.
The long lenses also captured aircraft’s presence above Philippine ships in a dangerous mission to resupply troops in Ayungin Shoal in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), also in 2013, just a day before Manila filed its international arbitration case against China.
On Friday, June 9, the US P3 Orion flew so low above Marawi City ordinary cameras captured its presence. It wanted to be seen. A day later, the US embassy in Manila announced it is helping the Philippine military against local terrorists in Marawi City.
But as US presence in Marawi is hyped up, Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) chief Lieutenant General Carlito Galvez sought to emphasize that the operations in Marawi City is “all Filipino.” The Americans are limited to giving “technical assistance” and none of their soldiers are fighting on the ground, he said.
“Sa ngayon ang ginagamit natin basically ay all Filipino ingenuinty…. Lahat ng ginagawa natin doon, kami lang talaga. Pilipino lahat ‘yun,” said Galvez in a press conference in Cagayan de Oro. (Right now, what we are using basically is all Filipino ingenuity…. All that we are doing there, it’s just us. Filipinos are behidn it.)
The US Navy P3 Orion can take a lot of information from the combat zone. It has cameras, infrared, and thermal imaging. It provides information on location of terrorists, hostages, and trapped civilians. (WATCH: US P3 Orion on PH Navy’s wishlist)
But Galvez said images taken by the P3 Orion only serve to “confirm” information already gathered by the Philippine military on the ground because the images are not immediately given to the Philippines.
“They have a cycle of information. It cannot be given immediately. Ina-analyze muna ng Pacom ‘yun (Pacom analyzes it first),” said Galvez, referring to the US Pacific Command or Pacom, the US military unit responsible for the entire Pacific Ocean.
The more significant assistance from the US military comes in the form of training.
Galvez said the Americans are in Marawi to evaluate the performance of the 15th Division Reconnaissance Company (DRC), a unit at the Army 1st Infantry Battalion that the Americans trained.
Even Galvez himself was trained at Fort Benning in the US, so were Armed Forces chief General Eduardo Año and ground commander Task Force Marawi chief Major General Rolando Bautista. Año was trained at Fort Huachuca in the US while Bautista took a VIP Protective Detail Course conducted by the US embassy in Manila.
It’s “all Filipino,” but the leaders have deep ties with the US. Even Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana served as a defense attaché at the Philippine embassy in Washington, DC.
This is the reality that President Rodrigo Duterte acknowledged on Sunday in Cagayan de Oro. (READ: Duterte’s pivot to China won’t be easy for Americanized PH military)
“Pro-American talaga ang mga sundalo natin (Our soldiers are really pro-American), that I cannot deny,” Duterte said. – Rappler.com