Can Filipino Women Survive the Deluge?
from ULAT LILA publications
created by Center for Women Research in the Philippines
Now, more than ever, the issue of security among the Filipino women are at stake. The basic rights of freedom from fear and freedom from want have to be considered during these difficult times. The freedom from fear is once again being threatened by the continuing presence of the US military soldiers the country through the Visiting Forces Agreement. Their presence is in the guise of guarding the people against “terrorism”. The freedom from want is at risk by the worsening economic crisis. The global economic depression contributes to the chronic problem of impoverishment in the country.
These are chronic issues that could hardly be solved by 2015, as what the deadline of the Medium Development Goal (MDG) has declared. These are issues with a systemic problem and can only be solved through a systemic change.
I. FREEDOM FROM FEAR: ABSENCE OF US TROOPS
The freedom from fear deals with the condition that people and communities live in peace, safety, and they enjoy the protection of their fundamental rights. However, this freedom is in jeopardy with the continuing presence of the US troops in the country through the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).
Together with the Filipino people, women tirelessly marched and campaigned for the removal of the US bases in 1991. It was euphoric then. Until in 1999, when the VFA was passed by the Philippine Senate and signed into law by then-president Joseph Estrada. Among other things, VFA grants extra-territorial and extra-judicial rights to US servicemen visiting the Philippines for “military exercises” coined as Balikatan.
The presence of the US military troops and the VFA have been rationalized as necessary since the US government classified the Philippines as part of the second front of terror. The second front comprises the Southeast Asian countries with Muslim-dominated areas.
Thus, as part of the region dubbed as the second front of terror, the Philippines collaborates with the US in making use of political pressure and military force. As a result, the US troops have performed 25 military exercises in the Philippines since 2002. Last February 2008, 6,000 US forces came and joined 2,000 Filipino soldiers for a military exercise.
The armed forces insist that such exercises are purely socio-civic missions and mere exercises. But there were reports that US troops participated in actual combat involvement like the incident on July 27, 2002 where a US soldier shot and wounded a Moro farmer in Basilan. US soldiers were also seen leading the AFP troops in their operation against the MNLF in Sulu last November 2006 and against the MILF in Midsayap last 2007. During military exercises, there were recorded accidental firings of the US troops that hit residents of Sulu. The survivors of the massacre in Maimbung, Sulu in 2007 attested that they saw American troops with the AFP units that carried out the military operation.
Another glaring example of the abuses of the US troops in the country was the rape of a 22-year-old Filipina in November 2005. She was raped by four US soldiers but only one, Lance Corporal Daniel Smith, was convicted due to lack of evidence against the three suspects. The vigilance of women’s organizations has pressured the government to take the case seriously.
Though convicted and ordered to be confined in the Philippine jail, Smith was purportedly transferred last December 29, 2006 to a detention facility at the US Embassy in Manila under the dialogue between DFA Secretary Romulo and US Ambassador Kristie Kenney.
The Smith case still stands as controversial as before because of the US’ disregard of the Philippine laws, which indicate that a convicted criminal – regardless of race and status – should be detained in a Philippine prison just like any ordinary Filipino sentenced to a prison term.
The Philippine government could not even insist in using VFA as leverage because it is not recognized by the US government as a treaty. The Chief Justice, Reynato Puno, declared the VFA unconstitutional and a “slur on our sovereignty.”1 Chief Justice Puno rationalizes that the VFA has not been ratified as a treaty by the United States and that its provisions are not fully enforceable under US law.
However, the rest of the associate justices upheld the constitutionality of the VFA on the basis that it is an implementation of the Mutual Defense Treaty. The Supreme Court ordered the transfer to Philippine custody of Smith but only after negotiations between the US and Philippine governments.
Such conditionality are welcomed by the US and Philippine governments. The Arroyo government has been declaring that the negotiations for Smith’s transfer to Philippine custody will take a “slow process”. And for the meantime, Smith would remain under the US custody.
Once again, the Filipino women are being challenged to show their force in dealing with the issue of VFA. Along with the freedom from fear is the issue of the country’s sovereignty. As the Philippine government could not assert its right as a sovereign nation to the US, the presence of the US military troops would mean a deliberate intervention, politically and militarily. VFA, among other US-RP bilateral agreements on military assistance, is being used as an additional tool for the US objective of political hegemony in the world. With its lopsided enforcement, VFA would continuously impose on the Philippine government to provide support services, including billeting, communications services and construction of bases for operations to US military forces.
Worse, unlike the bases, VFA has no duration. It is in effect, indefinite: indefinite period, indefinite number of military troops, indefinite access of the Philippine territory, and indefinite or undefined limit of military activities.
Historically, part of the package for the military forces is the assurance of their rest and recreation in the host country. That is why the Philippines had produced red-light districts in Olongapo City, Angeles City, and Cavite where the US bases had been established before. For decades, a vast prostitution system was planned and synchronized to service US military stationed in the bases.
Before the ratification of VFA in 1998, the Gabriela women’s organization approximated 400,000 victims of prostitution in the country. With the opening of more than 22 ports to the United States for the joint military exercises, Gabriela had foreseen an increase on the number of prostituted women.
Next Time in the analysis of Filipinas: Terrorism as Justification
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