SAVING LCPL SMITH: VFA Protects Smith, Hurts Filipino Women and Children

February 25, 2009
Reference: Joanne Alcantara, GABRIELA-USA, National Coordinator

SAVING LCPL SMITH: VFA Protects Smith, Hurts Filipino Women and Children

Since the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) was signed under the Estrada administration in 1999, ongoing US-sponsored military training and exercises inaptly named, Balikatan (literally translated in Tagalog as “shoulder to shoulder”) have put Filipino civilians, especially women and children, in grave danger. The VFA’s misleading extension of friendship and fraternity between Philippine and US political entities creates more damage by giving priority to American interests interfering with Philippine governance.

In 2000, around 2,500 U.S. troops were deployed to various areas of the Philippines to preapre for the military war games of 2009. An expected 6,000 U.S. soldiers will spend time in Central Luzon from February 25 to April 30 for this military extravaganza. Major Ramon Zagala said the U.S. government in Washington D.C. reserves at least 2 million in American tax dollars toward these exercises. These activities bring in a number of warships and aircrafts, including F-16 fighter planes. Inevitably, U.S. military presence impacts the lives of Filipino women and children in the Philippines by sending these machines of war to defenseless neighborhoods where entire communities exist.

Just days ago on February 19, Rafaela Polborido, a 16-month old girl was killed in a province in Bicol, after government soldiers bombed her home with grenades. The local human rights chapter of KARAPATAN stated that 8 civilians, including 5 children, were wounded in alleged government offensives preparing for U.S. Troops’ Balikatan exercises.

Rafaela Polborido’s death is not an isolated case as U.S. military presence in the Philippines strikes a very painful chord for the Filipino people. Women and children have especially been victimized as objects of rest and recreation as prostitutes for U.S. military servicemen and soldiers. The most recent assault on Filipino women is the case of Marine Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith who was convicted of the rape of 22-year old Nicole. Smith has since then been sentenced to 40 years in prison for Nicole’s 2006 assualt, but has remained in the custody at the U.S. embassy. On February 11, the Philippine Supreme Court prompted the Philippine government to begin negotiations which should transfer Smith to a Philippine detention facility; the case is ongoing.

These stories of civilian casualties, interruptions of daily life and community grievances are hardly exposed to the public, and Nicole and Rafaela are only two of the hundreds of cases which result from the extended US military exercises in the Philippines.

“The Philippines is not a playground for war machines and military antics, there are innocent civilians at risk in all parts of the Philippines, especially women and children. And when U.S. troops decide to break the rules and violate our laws, due judgment under the Philippine constitution must follow,” stated Valerie Francisco, chair of Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment (FiRE) in New York City.

In the midst of these intense economic predicaments, the U.S. dollars unnecessarily spent on military war games in the Philippines is scrutinized by Filipino American women’s organizations. “Instead of spending millions of dollars on military games, that money should be going towards the economic crisis, and budget cuts that have devastated the United States’ social welfare programs, from education to healthcare,” added Marisa Mariano, a social worker and Chairwoman of Babae in San Francisco.

”As Filipino American women, and members of GABRIELA USA, we strongly denounce these Balikatan excercises and the unfair Visiting Forces Agreements that allows these U.S. troops to come on Philippine soil, hurt women and children, and get away with it,” says Joanne Alcantara, National Coordinator for GABRIELA USA.

GABRIELA-USA, consisting of babae in San Francisco, Pinay Sa Seattle and Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment (FiRE) in New York, were the first groups in the U.S. to demand the prosecution of the Nicole’s rapist in 2006.And continue to demand the removal of all U.S. troops from the Philippines and the abrogation of the VFA!




2 thoughts on “SAVING LCPL SMITH: VFA Protects Smith, Hurts Filipino Women and Children

    • Hello, Aivee:
      While it is of utmost importance to continue the work in the Philippines, it is equally important to create awareness and organize Filipino/Fil-Am communities in the United States. With close to 4 million Filipinos in the U.S. (both documented and undocumented,) it is vital that Filipin@s here remain accountable to those in the Philippines and support issues and causes affecting Filipinos anywhere in the world. FiRE, as a member of GABRIELA-USA, remains tied to the struggles of Filipinas living in the Philippines by working directly with the organization, GABRIELA (Philippines,) which has fought for womens rights there for the last 25 years. As a direct chapter of GABRIELA in the United States, FiRE continues to aid the New York City area by creating community/campaign initiatives serving Filipinas and highlighting womens issues occurring in the Philippines within the mainstream U.S. media. The volunteers who run FiRE consist of a membership of Filipina immigrants of various generations, mixed raced Pinays, and Fil-Ams who dedicate their time to create these community spaces for Filipinas; the product of our work has the potential of affecting the living conditions of our local NYC community, the perspective on OFWs all over the world, or even the political/economic situation in the Philippines itself.

      Please feel free to reply with any remaining questions or concerns, as I welcome furthering this dialogue.

      Best, Hanalei Ramos, Secretary General of FiRE.

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