Hospital Closure 'Never Happened'

Hospital Closure 'Never Happened'
January 5th, 2008  
Team Infidel

Topic: Hospital Closure 'Never Happened'

Hospital Closure 'Never Happened'
Manila Times
January 5, 2008 By Rommel C. Lontayao, Reporter
The United States Embassy in Manila has denied reports that US Special Forces troops providing training and intelligence to Filipino counterparts had ordered the closure of a hospital in Sulu province, giving assurance that the incident “never happened.”
During an exclusive interview with The Manila Times on Thursday, Rebecca Thompson, press attaché of the US Embassy in Manila, said its troops never issued the closure of the hospital, saying “It is not [the soldier’s] role to issue orders to anyone in the Philippines, much less to a hospital.”
Thompson made the statement a few days after a Philippine Army general said the US troops have already apologized for forcing a local hospital in Panamao town on Jolo island to close every night.
US troops allegedly ordered Muslim doctors and hospital staff to close down the Panamao District Hospital at night since December 3. American troops who put up a base near the hospital even told the doctors to treat their patients at the municipal hall.
The US military tried to cover up the incident and denied it ever happened, blaming the local media for the “blunder.”
The Philippine military’s Western Mindanao Command based in Zamboanga City quoted a US military spokesman, Lt. Cdr. Melissa Schuermann, as saying: “All these information were allegations and are not true, unless proved otherwise.”
Since 2006, the US soldiers have been in southern Philippines to provide counterterrorist training and intelligence to Filipino troops.
Thompson said the soldiers “do have some involvement in medical things,” but these were limited to providing assistance to medical workers.
“They go to some communities and provide treatments, free dental and medical care to the people in those communities. They even help vaccinate livestock and transport medical supplies,” she said.
Armed US troops reportedly entered the hospital in Panamao town on Jolo island in late November and ordered doctors to close it down every night, preventing them from treating patients. The Philippine military says the US forces have since apologized.
Jolo is a stronghold of Abu Sayyaf Islamic militants blamed for the country’s worst terrorist attacks.
Brig. Gen. Ruperto Pabustan, the chief of Filipino Special Forces in Jolo, had confirmed that the US soldiers late last month told officials to close the hospital, thus, preventing medical personnel from treating patients during the evening.
A Philippine military spokes-man, Maj. Eugene Batara, said Western Mindanao Command chief Maj. Gen. Nelson Allaga ordered a separate investigation of the meddling of US forces in the operation of the hospital.
He said the Western Mindanao Command and the US Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines have exerted coordi-native efforts to address the reported incidents and bring out the truth regarding the matter.
“The directive to investigate is to determine the truthfulness of the allegations and the result of the investigation shall serve as the basis in recommending the appropriate punishment to the guilty party or mediate the differences or misun-derstanding between the parties involved if any.”
“The Western Mindanao Com-mand chief further stressed that the Armed Forces of the Philippines shall uphold the sovereignty and integrity of the Filipinos and shall bring the matter to proper US authorities if warranted, pending the result of the investigation of [Philippine Army’s] Joint Task Force Comet [in Sulu],” Batara said.
The incident “had an adverse impact on the ongoing joint humanitarian efforts of the US forces and the Armed Forces of the Philippines” operating in Jolo and nearby islands, a Philippine military statement said.
Local military officials have said the Americans might have wanted the hospital closed at night to prevent it becoming a launching pad for attacks on their nearby camp.
US soldiers insist there was a threat against them in the town from suspected Abu Sayyaf militants, but the report was disputed by local security forces.
Dr. Silak Lakkian, head of the hospital, has complained about how US troops meddled in their operations. US soldiers reportedly threatened to shoot anybody in the hospital in case of a terrorist attack.
On Monday, the Philippine military banned US soldiers from going near the hospital and even sent Filipino soldiers to guard the hospital.
The governor of Sulu, Abdulsakur Sakur Tan, allowed the resumption of the hospital operations at night to cater to emergencies and patients in Panamao after a meeting with military and town officials over the weekend.
At this meeting, US military commanders in Sulu apologized for the incident as Governor Tan insisted that “US troops have no authority to impose on us.”
“The hospital has resumed operations at night and everything is back to normal again,” Brig. Gen. Ruperto Pabustan, commander of the Philippines Army Special Forces in Sulu, told The Manila Times.
The meddling of US troops in local affairs drew widespread criticism and protests from provincial leaders and has triggered calls from political activists in Manila for Congress and Senate to hold an investigation of the incident.
The militant Kilusang Magbu-bukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) called on Congress and the Senate to immediately launch a thorough probe on the real role of US troops in Mindanao.
“We have to uphold our sovereignty if not then foreigners will just trample it under their feet,” Rafael Mariano, KMP chairman who represents the Anakpawis party-list in Congress, said.
News of the incident only broke out Saturday after hospital staff complained to authorities and journalists about how US troops forcibly shut down the hospital at night, even threatening to shoot anybody if there was any attack against the foreigners.
Local villagers and some Filipino troops also have complained about the arrogance of US soldiers in Sulu. Some US troops have allegedly treated Filipino soldiers like vassals, and prevented curious Muslim villagers to go near them in public places as though the locals were terrorists.
In the past, American troops also harassed Filipino journalists covering joint RP-US military war games in Zamboanga City and Sulu. On some occasions, the journalists were arrested, and cameras of reporters who took photos and videos of them were confiscated.
It was also in Sulu that hundreds of US soldiers slaughtered some 800 Muslim villagers, including innocent women and children, during the Moro rebellion in March 1906 that has become known as the First Battle of Bud (Mount) Dajo also called the “Moro Crater Massacre.”
During this battle, 790 men and officers, under the command of Col. J.W. Duncan, assaulted the volcanic crater, then being held by several hundred rebels protecting Muslim villagers.
--With Al Jacinto and AFP

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