By Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News
MANILA – US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg stressed that the operation conducted in Mamasapano to hunt down terrorists Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan and Basit Usman was “Philippine-planned and executed.”
This, amid allegations that the United States was directly behind the January 25 operation which ended in the deaths of 44 elite police commandos following a clash with Muslim rebels and private armed groups.
Goldberg said the US has only helped the Philippines with information, training and equipment support in efforts to fight international terrorism.
“Two things. One is that it is incumbent on all governments, all countries to counter violent extremism. And that’s what we do with the Philippines, that’s what we do with dozens of countries around the world. We exchange information, we exchange experience and training and equipping and so forth. So we do this together, all the countries of the world because we all confront this together, the challenge of violent extremism,” Goldberg said in an ambush interview.
The ambassador was in Mount Samat in Pilar, Bataan on Thursday for the 73rd commemoration rites for Araw ng Kagitingan.
“As for Mindanao, I think everyone knows that this was a Philippine-planned and executed mission but that the United States has over time provided and shared information on international terrorists. We’ve worked very closely with the Special Action Force, with the special operation forces of the AFP and as long as we continue to do so, it’s always in support and at the request of the Philippine government. So what we are doing is simply to be good partners, good allies,” he said.
He said the US, as an ally of the Philippines, will continue to share information and help in training to beef up the country’s efforts against terrorism.
“We have, as I mentioned, we have worked with the Philippine armed forces, with the police, as they take on the challenge. Ultimately, it’s a Filipino challenge here in the Philippines. What we can do as good friends and allies of the Philippines is to share information when we have it. What we can do is help in training, in some cases, equipping our allies as they go about dealing with these challenges. So that’s what good allies do,” he said.
TRIBUTE TO SAF MEN
As he acknowledged the sacrifices of war heroes and veterans, Goldberg also paid tribute to the 44 Special Action Force members who died in the January 25 Mamasapano operation.
“As we commemorate this day of valor in the Philippines, we honor all those who have fallen in the name of freedom and we also honor the memory and heroism of the 44 Special Action Force members who laid down their lives to protect us all against a modern scourge: international terrorism,” Goldberg said.
Marwan was killed in the operation, but Usman was able to escape. According to Goldberg, he has no information to share on Usman.
US COMMITTED TO DEFEND PH
Meanwhile, Goldberg reiterated America’s commitment to defend the Philippines a year after President Obama made the same remarks during his visit to Manila.
“…And make no mistake. As President Obama said last year during his visit to Manila, our commitment to the Philippines under our mutual defense treaty is iron-clad. In good times and bad, we stand together, shoulder-to-shoulder,” he said.
“In 2015, as in 1942, we face challenges and threats together as partners, friends, and in many cases now, family. Whether we are fighting terrorism or responding to the devastation of natural disasters, we face them together. And when the Philippines is threatened, it is not alone.
“And when we talk about the defense of our common interests and values, let us not forget that 70 years after World War II, we are joined in our efforts to protect the security and defense of this region by Japan. Yesterday’s enemies are today’s allies and strategic partners, yet another legacy of the sacrifice and heroism of US and Filipino soldiers so long ago,” he added.
Japanese Ambassador to the Philippines Kazuhide Ishikawa also spoke of the cooperation between the Philippines and Japan in the areas of maritime security and defense.
Japan is involved in a territorial dispute with China over the East China Sea.
“Our cooperation in maritime security based upon the rule of law is a good example,” Ishikawa said as he pointed out a memorandum of defense cooperation and exchange signed by the Philippines and Japan in Tokyo in January.
He also mentioned Karen Eve Mante, the first female PMA cadet who graduated from a five-year degree program at the National Defense Academy of Japan.