ilipino-American Women Urge Obama to Revoke Support for Visiting Forces Agreement and Pledge to Prevent a Thousand “Nicoles”

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

20 March 2009

Reference: Joanne Alcantara, GABRIELA-USA, National Coordinator (206) 859-7525, email gabrielawomen@gmail.com

Filipino-American Women Urge Obama to Revoke Support for Visiting Forces Agreement and Pledge to Prevent a Thousand “Nicoles”

United States–Filipino American women urge President Obama to look thoroughly into the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) as it clearly justifies violence against Filipino women at the hands of US military service and at the expense of US tax payer dollars. The long standing notoriety of abuses against Filipino women through direct military prostitution and trafficking have been legitimated by policies such as the VFA.

Three years have passed since the sexual assault on “Nicole”, and Daniel Smith, although convicted in 2006 for rape and sentenced to 40 years, has not served a day of sentence in a Filipino jail. Through the Visiting Forces Agreement, the U.S. insists that he should stay in U.S. custody despite a Philippine Supreme Court decision that he should be under Philippine custody.

Filipino-American women expressed disappointment with reports this week of Obama’s phone call to Philippine President Arroyo expressing his support for the Bush-era Visiting Forces Agreement, amidst heightened public opinion for abrogating the VFA. Members of GABRIELA-USA, BABAE, Pinay sa Seattle, and Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment (FIRE), criticized Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for failing to negotiate with Obama over the rightful transfer of the convicted rapist Lance Corporal Daniel Smith from U.S. to Philippine custody. “Arroyo has proven once again that she cares not for the sovereignty of our nation and the dignity of our people, especially for the justice of a Filipino woman dragged dragged through the contradictions in the VFA,” says Marisa Mariano, Chairwoman of Babae in San Francisco.

Even more disturbing is that days after Obama and Arroyo’s phone conversation pledging mutual support for VFA, a flurry of news reports stated that Nicole has agreed to a monetary settlement with Smith and have already left for a new life in the U.S. Her lawyer said that, “Nicole was tired of the case,” and her family did not want to be bothered by it anymore because they said, “there is no justice in the Philippines.” Smith and the Court of Appeals made a settlement of 100,000 Pesos ($2,000 USD) for compensatory damages to Nicole. This meager settlement exposes the clear lack of justice signed into the VFA and the gross inability of the Arroyo government to stand firm in defense of its people.

Many outraged Filipinos are convinced that the settlement was a move by the U.S. and Arroyo governments to try to hush the case and save the VFA. This is occurring while thousands of Filipinos have clamored to scrap the agreement, which has not even been ratified by the U.S. Senate or the Philippine Congress.

“As advocates for rape survivors and other victims of abuse, we know full well the societal tendencies to blame the victim or even for the victim to blame themselves after undergoing trauma. It is so sad and disheartening that despite all the things Nicole has gone through, she continues to be victimized and used as a scapegoat to preserve U.S. military interventionism in the Philippines,” says Valerie Francisco, chairwoman of Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment in New York City. “But we know that Nicole is not the first, nor is she the last to be victimized by the VFA. The growing movement to scrap the VFA is to prevent a thousand Nicoles,” added Valerie Francisco.

GABRIELA-USA, along with thousands of others in the Philippines, insist that President Obama investigates the implications of the VFA for the people most affected by its stipulations. We will continue to bring light to the stories of thousands of Filipino women who historically and to the present suffer the abuses of militarization. And we pledge to work towards preventing a thousand more Nicoles.

To help JUNK the VFA, and make sure that no Filipina must go through the same as Nicole, please sign: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/JunkVFAnow/.

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