- The Washington Times - Monday, January 5, 2004

Dealing with reluctant allies is one of the most complicated challenges to the war on terror. Many of the organizations on the State Department’s list of terror sponsors are based in nations that are allied with the United States. Close diplomatic relationships mean that it is more difficult for Washington to criticize the faulty policies of these allies, as well as minimizing the extent to which the Pentagon can put troops on the ground to eliminate terror camps. The Philippines is a prime example.

The United States has had troops deployed in the archipelago for two years to combat terror, but the rules of engagement approved by the Philippine government prohibit Americans from taking any offensive action. Although U.S. GIs are stationed on the southern islands — which is where the radical Islamists and terror groups are located — they are not allowed to engage in combat unless it is a defensive act to repel an attack. The duties of our fighting men are limited to training Filipino soldiers.

There is no doubt that the training exercises are valuable to the undertrained Filipinos. The question is whether America can afford to waste precious military resources on training maneuvers that deliver minimal results as far as eliminating terrorists. It would be a different case if our soldiers were actually fighting Philippine separatists and Islamic radicals — but they are not. Being forced to underutilize our troops in the Philippines puts further strain on our already-stretched worldwide troop capacity.

Institutional corruption is another major weak spot in the U.S.-Philippine alliance. The Southeast Asian nation is one of the more corrupt in the world, and it is getting worse. Money-laundering laws do not meet international standards, and institutional graft drains away as much as one-third of the resources of the government in Manila. The military is not an exception to the problem.

Two months ago, two Filipinos were killed while occupying the control tower at Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport. The men — one military officer and a former officer — were seeking a public platform to air grievances concerning corruption in the ranks. In July, hundreds of military personnel took over Manila’s central business district in a failed attempt to overthrow the chain of command, which the mutineers complained was too corrupt to function. In 2003, Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes was forced to resign amid allegations of corruption.

Systemic corruption in the Philippine military hurts America’s war on terror. Five months ago, Gen. Narciso Abaya, chief of the Philippine armed forces, made a troubling admission about the military under his command. “I admit there is graft and corruption at all levels,” he said. For example, it is routine for officers to sell a percentage of each new shipment of arms they receive, including military-to-military transfers from the United States.

American-made assault rifles, grenade launchers, night-vision equipment and other military hardware that Washington supplied to Philippine forces have turned up in bases belonging to the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the communist New People’s Army and the Abu Sayyaf. To increase the integrity of U.S. arms transfers, Washington should be much tougher in inducing Manila to reduce corruption. Until it does, it is almost certainly the case that more U.S. military aid will end up in the hands of terrorists. Ultimately, corruption in the Philippine military is the responsibility of the entire Philippine government.

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