World Bulletin / News Desk
Two U.S. soldiers were killed on Tuesday by a landmine in Muslim region, raising the questions on whether U.S. troops are involved in Philippines combat operations.
One Philippine marine also was killed and two others were wounded in the blast on Jolo island.
Asked if the Americans were involved in combat operations, Major Philippine General Benjamin Dolorfino denied, saying "No, they were just there to help in building a school."
Also, Philippine army spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Romeo Brawner said the U.S. soldiers were the first deaths since since 2002 among U.S. forces deployed in troubled areas in the southern Philippines. In that year, one soldier in a restaurant was killed by a bomb on a motorcycle parked outside.
"We're still investigating to determine who was behind the explosion," Brawner told reporters, adding the latest attack happened near a Marine outpost in Indanan.
"They were not on combat operations," he told Reuters.
Protests on U.S. presence
The U.S. embassy in Manila issued a statement confirming the death of two servicemen, but withheld their identities pending notification of the next of kin.
Deal between U.S. and Philippine armies on deployment of U.S. soldiers in the Muslim region sparked criticisms and protests across Asian country.
On September 23, anti-riot policemen use their shields to push back protesters demonstrating against the continued presence of U.S. troops in the Philippines because of the Visiting Forces Agreement, during a rally in front of the U.S. embassy in Manila.
Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, head of the foreign relations panel at the upper house of Congress, said the government must end and renegotiate a new security deal with the United States because the current treaty violates the country's constitution.
Santiago said in a statement that U.S. had to negotiate with the Philippines if it wants to use Philippine territory in its alleged war on what it say "terror".
Since 2002, an average of 300 soldiers from the U.S. Special Operations Command have been deployed in half a dozen locations in the southern Philippines.
The United States has given an average of 2 billion pesos ($40 million) in security, economic and humanitarian aid to the Philippines since 2000 following a military-to-military pact, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita told reporters.
U.S. troops are allowed to fight back if attacked but are forbidden from offensive operations, according to the agreement.