Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Blackwater USA challenged on Philippines plans (The Virginian-Pilot - HamptonRoads.com/PilotOnline.com)

The Virginian-Pilot - HamptonRoads.com/PilotOnline.com
By BILL SIZEMORE, The Virginian-Pilot
© June 20, 2006

Blackwater USA's plans for expanding into the Philippines are generating controversy there.

A member of the Philippines Senate says he wants to investigate the private military company's actions to determine whether they violate the Asian nation's constitution or laws. The Moyock, N.C.-based company says its operations are legal and proper.

In a flurry of reports over the weekend in the Philippines media, Sen. Rodolfo Biazon was quoted as saying he will push for an investigation when Congress reconvenes in July. A former armed forces chief of staff, Biazon chairs the Senate Committee on National Defense.

Blackwater President Gary Jackson said last month that the fast-growing company plans to open an Asian branch on the site of the former U.S. naval base at Subic Bay to teach jungle survival skills.

Biazon said he has acquired a copy of Blackwater's agreement with the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority, which is developing the area as a commercial zone known as Subic Bay Freeport.

He said Blackwater is recruiting Filipinos for security work overseas at salaries of $1,700 to $5,000 a month.

Chris Taylor, a Blackwater vice president, blamed the controversy on "misinformation and confusion." Taylor said the company's agreement with the Subic Bay authority is not final.

"That facility is not open for business yet," he said, adding that Blackwater has "complied with everything we've been asked to comply with."

The planned training center and the recruitment of Filipinos for security work are separate issues, Taylor said.

Blackwater has federal contracts to provide security for U.S. officials and facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Philippines government has banned Filipinos from working in Iraq.

"We have not sent one Filipino to Iraq in violation of that ban," although other companies have, Taylor said.

He said Blackwater has hired about 20 Filipinos for security work in Afghanistan.

Reach Bill Sizemore at ******** or bill.sizemore@pilotonline.com.

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