Here, war threat is invoked; in Gaza, reality is horrible

AT GROUND LEVEL - Satur C. Ocampo - The Philippine Star

It was inevitable. This week, Marcos Jr. came around to recognizing the threat to the Philippines, particularly Northern Luzon, should the rising tensions between China and Taiwan, the latter backed militarily by the United States, lead to war.

Pointing out that Kaohsiung, Taiwan is only 40 minutes by plane from Laoag, Ilocos Norte, he said this “immediately puts us in the area of interest of China.” Northern Luzon, he pointed out, should be “well-prepared for any eventuality.”

Addressing troops of the Philippine Army’s 5th Infantry Division at Camp Melchor dela Cruz in Gamu, Isabela, he told them: “The external threat now has become more pronounced… more worrisome. And that is why we have to prepare.”

Since their mission for internal security has been expanded to external defense, he promised that his administration would build up their capability to “make sure that you have all that you need to be effective in the defense of the republic.”

It’s the external threat, Marcos Jr. explained, that partly impelled his administration to designate the Lal-lo Air Base in Cagayan as an additional EDCA site for the US military.

Under the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), the US military is allowed to establish facilities within designated Philippine military bases upon their request, to deploy warplanes or warships (where feasible) and military land transport, and deposit war materiel and other resources for their exclusive use. These US military bases within Philippine military bases are referred to as EDCA sites.

In April, Marcos Jr. added Camp Melchor dela Cruz, the Lal-lo Airbase and the Camilo Osias Naval Base in Sta. Ana, Cagayan, and another base in Palawan as additional EDCA sites. Under the preceding Aquino II administration, five EDCA sites had already been designated.

 It is reported that around 16 EDCA sites in all will eventually be established around the country. It this happens, it would practically make the Philippines one huge military base for the US as it ramps up its preparations for a possible military confrontation with China.

 This year’s annual Balikatan joint military exercises between the US and Philippine armed forces were held in Northern Luzon, notably in Laoag, where the US Army showed off the “landmark deployment” of its newest ground-based Typhon mid-range system capable of firing missiles at China.

In next year’s Balikatan, Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. has announced, the exercises would simulate “full-scale” battles. The exercises, he said, would put to the test the combined capabilities of the US and Philippine troops “in the most realistic scenarios possible, with safety in mind.” At the closing ceremony of this year’s military drills, AFP chief Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. disclosed that preparations for next year’s Balikatan would start “right after this closing ceremony.”

But while our leaders talk of war, actual ones are going on, inflicting horrifying damage in other parts of the world. In the Middle East, Israel has been waging war for nine months now against the Palestinian militant armed organization Hamas, which has held power in Gaza for years. It’s Israel’s retaliation to a Hamas surprise attack on Oct. 7, which killed 2,250 Israeli civilians and some military personnel, with 200-plus hostages brought to Gaza.

More than 36,000 Palestinian civilians, including children and women, have died mostly due to the almost daily aerial bombings and artillery barrages by Israel. The bombings have practically rendered much of Gaza uninhabitable, according to United Nations and other sources.

How can a breakthrough be made? This week, a United Nations investigating commission, mandated to probe human rights violations in Israel and the Palestinian territories starting from Oct. 7, submitted two parallel reports. Notably, both reports accuse Israel and Hamas of each committing war crimes and crimes against humanity.

 The UN Human Rights Council formed the commission, chaired by UNHR chief Navi Pillay, a South African legal expert. (The Guardian, which provided the following reports, said that Israel regards Pillay with hostility because of her previous criticisms of Israel’s human rights record.)

This was the first in-depth probe by any UN body into the events beginning Oct. 7. While given full rein to investigate, the Pillay commission has no power to impose any penalties.

The first report focused on crimes committed by Palestinian armed groups during the Oct. 7 attack on Israeli communities near the border with Gaza. The second report pertained to Israel’s culpability in the large-scale deaths of civilians in the subsequent Israeli military offensive against Hamas.

The first report states that Hamas’ military wing and six other Palestinian armed groups – aided in some instances by Palestinian civilians – have committed killings, torture, sexual violence, and systematic kidnappings. It says:

“Many abductions were carried out with significant physical, mental and sexual evidence of degrading and humiliating treatment, including in some cases parading the abductees. Women and women’s bodies were used as victory trophies by male perpetrators.”

The UN investigating panel said it had identified a pattern of sexual violence by Hamas and concluded that these were not isolated incidents, but similar events occurring in different locations.

Also the report described the desecration of bodies, including in a “sexualized” way, and cases of decapitation and burning.

Equally damning is the second report, about Israel’s conduct in the war. It accuses Israel of using “disproportionate force” that amounted to a direct attack on civilians, resulting in a casualty rate “unparalleled across conflicts in recent decades.”

The commission found Israel’s authorities “responsible for the war crime of starvation as a method of warfare, murder or wilful killings, intentionally directing attacks against civilians and civilian objects, forcible transfer of people, sexual violence, torture, and inhumane or cruel punishment, arbitrary detention, and outrages upon personal dignity.”

The alleged sexual violence by Israeli forces referred to the stripping nude of Palestinian men and boys, taking pictures of them that were shown in public. The intention, the report says, was “to inflict severe humiliation.”

On war starvation, Israel was accused of failing to provide, and preventing anyone else to supply, essential necessities to the Palestinians.

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