Manila, Feb. 27, 2003 -- If President Arroyo fails to come clean with the Filipino people on the privately agreed plan with Washington sending 3,000 American troops to engage in combat against Abu Sayyaf rebels, an impeachment complaint initiated by an ally in the House and endorsed by opposition congressmen awaits her.

Administration Rep. Imee Marcos yesterday threatened to initiate an impeachment move against Mrs. Arroyo if she insists on concealing the truth from the public on the true role of the American troops to be stationed in Jolo, Sulu.

Marcos also scored Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes for concealing from the public the true purpose of his meeting with his US counterpart, Defense chief Donald Rumsfeld.

In a telephone interview with the Tribune yesterday, Marcos said there is clearly a move on the part of Mrs. Arroyo to hide the truth on the American soldiers' role in the country and has even sent Reyes on a “cover-up” mission.

Marcos said Reyes has been caught lying about meeting with Rumsfeld to “discuss the terms of (American) deployment” in Jolo, Sulu, since a check with defense officials showed that Rumsfeld's appointment book does not show there is any special meeting between Rumsfeld and Reyes on Friday.

The Philippine defense chief will, however, be attending a “regular defense briefing” with several defense officials which will merely give a broad view of the progress of American troops deployed in several foreign countries.

“There's no way Reyes can discuss the terms of deployment he speaks of with Rumseld,” Marcos said, adding if there was no earlier agreement, it was impossible for the US government to send in its aircraft carrier in advance.

The Ilocos Norte lawmaker also said it is more than odd that Reyes has said nothing about a meeting with US Secretary of State Colin Powell, as this would also be his turf.

“If everything is aboveboard, and there is no intent on the part of Malacañang to deceive the people, then a Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) official should have also been with Reyes on this trip.”

Marcos pointed out that if this concealment ploy continues, sooner than later, the President may find herself facing an impeachment complaint.

“Let the public know what is the Philippine government's clear-cut policy on US troops that will be arriving to help (our) Armed Forces fight Moslem rebels in Mindanao,” she said.

The lady solon said that although she is not in the mood for any impeachment cases, she would consider advocating an impeachment should the President stand firm in not telling the public the government's real policy on US troops.

“It looks like it is the Defense department that makes these 'foreign policies' since the (DFA) had no clue at all about this agreement Mrs. Arroyo has with Washington,” she said, adding it is now the defense and security advisers of Mrs. Arroyo dictating foreign policy.

Marcos noted that “while the military has failed to subjugate the Moslem secession and banditry in Mindanao, it has, however, succeeded in overwhelming Malacañang in the formulation of foreign policy.”

Diplomatic sources told the Tribune that DFA Secretary Blas Ople went “ballistic” upon discovery that an agreement was forged between Manila and Washington on the deployment of some 3,000 US troops, with some 1,700 to be stationed in Jolo.

Allowing US troops to come in for combat operations, Marcos stressed, would be a direct violation of the Constitution and this renders the President vulnerable to impeachment.

“Palpable violation of such is totally a ground for impeachment,” the Ilocos Norte lawmaker said.

She was referring to Article 18, Section 25, of the 1987 Constitution which provides that “after the expiration in 1991 of the agreement between the Republic of the Philippines and the USA concerning military bases, foreign military bases, troops or facilities shall not be allowed in the RP except under the treaty duly concurred in by the Senate and, when the Congress so requires, ratified by a majority of the votes cast by the people in a national referendum held for that purpose and recognized as a treaty by the other contracting state.”

This, Marcos said, clearly manifests that “Malacañang's decision to allow or as the US claims invite for combat operations is definitely forbidden.”

Malacañang continues to deny there was a private agreement with the US government on the American soldiers” participation in combat operations against the Abu Sayyaf rebels.

Earlier, two American officials reconfirmed the existence of a secret agreement on the US troops' combat role in Jolo, that was approved at least two weeks ago, with Mrs. Arroyo in Malacañang.

US Ambassador to Manila Francis Ricciardone two days ago also admitted Manila and Washington had “agreed in principle” on the sending of US troops to Mindanao to help the Armed Forces of the Philippines in its fight against the Islamic bandit group.

Ricciardone claimed it was just a matter of terminology. Americans call the participation of US soldiers operations, while the Philippines uses “exercises.”

But Marcos pointed out that even such exercises are not allowed under the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and noted that even the White House and a Pentagon spokesman have not denied the US forces would be engaged in combat operations.

“They say the US forces will merely assist the AFP in the operations against the Abu Sayyaf. Obviously, the AFP will be on combat duty. It follows that the US forces, assisting the Philippine military, will engage in combat, too,” she said.

Marcos insisted that the Constitution is non-negotiable and that military and defense officials should not dictate the country's foreign policy.

Because Mrs. Arroyo is Commander-in-Chief, the lawmaker hinted broadly, it is she who has command responsibility and is culpable for blatant violation of the Constitution.

Other legislators shared the sentiment she raised.

Minority Leader Carlos Padilla said the President faces a possible impeachment on the issue, specially since it is a repeat of another recent incident.

“Last year, we already had trouble regarding Balikatan 02-01, and now we are also facing the same trouble. Soon, Malacañang will just dsicover there are groups that might be taking advantage of the situation... and may think of filing an impeachment complaint against her for this issue,” the minority leader said.

Should any group decide to file the complaint, there will be legislators who are expected to endorse it, he said.

In Honolulu, Reyes told the media he wants the deployment of US troops to the Philippines delayed and that this deployment is to push through only after the US troops' role is determined.

The Defense secretary claimed that foreign troops are not allowed by the Constitution to engage in “offensive combat operations” on Philippine soil, after a meeting with Adm. Thomas Fargo, the commander of the US forces in the Pacific.

“We say that we would rather hold deployment in connection with Balikatan 03-1 until after the final agreement on exactly the size and shape is reached,” he said.

Balikatan 03-1, a joint counter-terrorism exercise in Sulu province involving American and Philippine forces, was approved last week by Mrs. Arroyo despite the absence of Terms of Reference.

“We don't envision US forces being in charge, calling the shots,' Reyes claimed but admitted the Philippines does need US military assistance.

Pentagon spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Davies in Washington said the US-RP military exercises are ready to proceed.

Davies said it has been agreed that the operations would be led by the Philippine military with “the assistance of US forces.” (By Dona Policar, Tribune)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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