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CHICAGO – Philippine President Rody Duterte was right when he recently called the United States “hypocrite” for accusing him of human rights violations in connection with the extra-judicial killings of thousands of people under his watch.

“Tang-ina mo! (You son of a whore!),” the President blurted out, breaking his promise not to backslide to his expletive-dishing habit. He threw the expletive at Jonathan Miller of British Channel 4 News when he replied to questions from the reporter at a news briefing at Davao International Airport last Nov. 23.

Duterte was incensed when Miller said, “(M)ore people were killed in the first five months of your administration than during the Marcos dictatorship. The President countered, ‘I could ask the same question. Why is America losing 40,000 lives in drug-related cases?’”

The temperamental former mayor of Davao City was irked when Miller said that the “killings” in the U.S. “were not sanctioned by the U.S. President.”

Then President Duterte spoke about the US Invasion of Panama in 1989 to unseat President Manuel Noriega. It was an effort to stop the transport of illegal drugs from the Central American nation to the US mainland. This also resulted in the killing of thousands of people.

I conducted a research on the US Invasion of Panama when I was taking up my post-graduate journalism course at Chicago’s Roosevelt University.

The deadly Panama Invasion dubbed “Operation Just Cause”, according to the Commission for the Defense of Human Rights in Central America (CODEHUCA), resulted in the death of 2,500–3,000, and the Commission for the Defense of Human Rights in Panama (Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos de Panamá (CONADEHUPA) estimated the number of deaths at 3,500.

When Operation Just Cause was brought to the attention of former U.S. Chief of Staff General Colin Powell, Powell said he liked the name “because even our severest critics would have to utter ‘Just Cause’ while denouncing us.”

The invasion of Panama triggered local and international outrage as it was the first time that the U.S. attack was not anchored on the Monroe Doctrine.

The official U.S. justification for the invasion was articulated by President George H. W. Bush on the morning of Dec. 20, 1989, a few hours after the start of the operation. Bush listed four reasons for the invasion. These are:

• Safeguarding the lives of U.S. citizens in Panama.Noriega had declared that a state of war existed between the U.S. and Panama and that he threatened the lives of approximately 35,000 U.S. citizens living there. There had been many clashes between U.S. and Panamanian forces.

• Defending democracy and human rights in Panama.

• Combating drug trafficking. Panama had become a center for drug-money laundering and a transit point for drug trafficking to the U.S. and Europe.

• Protecting the integrity of the Torrejos-Carter Treaties. Members of Congress and others in the U.S. political establishment claimed that Noriega threatened the neutrality of the Panama Canal and that the U.S. had the right under the treaties to intervene militarily to protect the canal.

The Panama invasion was precipitated by a series of events.

In September 1987, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution urging Panama to re-establish a civilian government. Panama protested, alleging U.S. violations of the Torrijos–Carter Treaties. This was followed in November 1987 with a U.S. Senate resolution cutting military and economic aid to Panama.

Panamanians, in turn, adopted resolution restricting U.S. military presence. In February 1988, Noriega was indicted on drug-related charges in a U.S. federal court. U.S. forces began planning contingency operations in Panama (OPLAN Blue Spoon).

In March 1988, the first of four deployments of U.S. forces began, providing additional security to U.S. installations. There was a PDF (Panamanian Defense Force) attempted coup against Noriega.

In May 1988, civilian election was held in Panama. Opposition alliance tally showed its candidate, Guillermo Endara, beat Noriega’s candidate, Carlos Duque, by a 3-to-1 margin. But he election was declared invalid two days later by Noriega.

Later, President Bush ordered the deployment of 1,900 additional combat troops in Panama.

On Dec. 15, 1989, Noriega declared himself leader of Panama and said that the U.S. was in a state of war with Panama. Afterwards, A U.S. Marine lieutenant was shot and killed by PDF. A U.S. Navy lieutenant and wife were detained and assaulted by PDF. On Dec. 17, 1989, the U.S. NCA (National Command Authority) directed the execution of Operation Just Cause.

Despite several rulings by the U.S. Office of Legal Counsel that the U.S. military would be violating the Congressional Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 if it is going to enforce a federal warrant against Noriega outside the U.S. territory, Operation Just Cause went ahead.

When the smoke of battle cleared, the United Nations censured President Bush for the Panama Invasion but the censure was never published by the U.S. mainstream media.

Now, we know the reason why President Duterte exploded again, this time against Miller.  Apparently, Duterte does not want the U.S. to use its playbook on Noriega against him in his war on drugs. Two months ago, Duterte “accused the CIA of plotting to kill him.”

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Joseph is a former reporter of the Manila Bulletin, former president of the Rizal-Metro Manila Reporters Association and former president of the Chicago chapter of the National Press Club of the Philippines. A prolific reporter, Lariosa writes a column and news stories for the Filipino Star News and other Filipino community newspapers in the US as well as for GMA News and the Manila Bulletin.

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