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151445 APRIL 11, 2002

FACTS : Beginning 2002, personnel from the armed forces of the United States started arriving in Mindanao, to take part, in conjunction with the Philippine military, in Balikatan 02-1. In theory, they are a simulation of joint military maneuvers pursuant to the Mutual Defense Treaty, a bilateral defense agreement entered into by the Philippines and the United States in 1951. On Feb. 2002, Lim filed this petition for certiorari and prohibition, praying that respondents be restrained from proceeding with the so-called Balikatan 02-1, and that after due notice and hearing, judgment be rendered issuing a permanent writ of injuction and/or prohibition against the deployment of US troops in Basilan and Mindanao for being illegal and in violation of the Constitution. Petitioners contend that the RP and the US signed the Mutual Defense Treaty to provide mutual military assistance in accordance with the constitutional processes of each country only in the case of a armed attack by an external aggressor, meaning a third country, against one of them. They further argued that it cannot be said that the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan constitutes an external aggressor to warrant US military assistance in accordance with MDT of 1951. Another contention was that the VFA of 1999 does not authorize American soldiers to engage in combat operations in Philippine territory. ISSUE : Whether or not the Balikatan 02-1 activities are covered by the VFA. RULING : Petition is dismissed. The VFA itself permits US personnel to engage on an impermanent basis, in activities, the exact meaning of which is left undefined. The sole encumbrance placed on its definition is couched in the negative, in that the US personnel must abstain from any activity inconsistent with the spirit of this agreement, and in particular, from any political activity. Under these auspices, the VFA gives legitimacy to the current Balikatan exercises. It is only logical to assume that Balikatan 02-1 a mutual anti terrorism advising assisting and training exercise falls under the umbrella of sanctioned or allowable activities in the context of the agreement. Both the history and intent of the Mutual Defense Treaty and the VFA support the conclusion that combat-related activities as opposed to combat itself such as the one subject of the instant petition, are indeed authorized.