Filipinas Demand Basic Human Rights from the United States on International Human Rights Day

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE FROM Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment
December 10, 2010
Contact: Irma Bajar, Chairperson, fire.nyc@gmail.com

Filipinas Demand Basic Human Rights from the United States on International Human Rights Day

NEW YORK CITY, NY – Newly elected President Barack Obama became the symbol of hope for many. The people of the Philippines, along with many other parts of the world, expected a shift towards more humane U.S. foreign policy, after the detrimental consequences of the Bush regime. However, those hopes plummeted when aggressive U.S. policies increasing U.S. militarization in the Philippines came to light. In the sixth decade of International Human Rights Day commemoration, Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment (FiRE) implores civil society to protect basic human rights for all people, and to end torture, death, and militarization on Philippine soil for the sake of the “War on Terror.”

The War on Terror in the Philippines manifests itself under Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL), a national security and counter-insurgency plan responsible for arming and training elements of the Philippine military, and the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), where “war games” are conducted in civilian communities where the Philippine military suspects rebel fighters. U.S. military aid to the Philippines directly funds these activities, and Obama has explicitly given $30 million in 2010. U.S. delegates continue to praise “counter-terrorism” and the VFA, which is a direct violation of the Philippines’ constitutional ban of foreign troops on Philippine soil. With this, the Obama administration has proven that maintaining U.S. military and capital interests trump the basic human rights of the Filipino people.

The U.S. unquestionably supported the regime of former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, though her statements conflated human rights advocates, peasant leaders, and opposition politicians with terrorists; as well as denying human rights to Philippines citizens and silenced community organizers; resulting in the tortures, deaths, and disappearances of over two-thousand Filipino civilians, including surfaced Filipino-American community health worker, Melissa Roxas. While GMA is no longer in office as President, under newly elected President Aquino, about 25 community leaders have died or disappeared since July 2010.  Filipinos living in the United States must remain hypercritical of these neo-liberal policies’ damaging effects on communities back home, and hold the Obama administration accountable for agreements that deny Filipinos their basic human rights to live free of military violence and state repression. 

The effects of a U.S.-backed Philippines are devastating on Filipino communities. The military presence of Armed Forces of the Philippines Marines (AFP), Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU), and the U.S. military is sharply felt by women and children. Rape and assault are common in militarized zones (the case of Nicole and U.S. Lance Corporal Daniel Smith is a prime example), as are harassment, intimidation, and displacement of indigenous Filipino groups. For those of us living in the U.S., it is our tax dollars that finance these interventionist policies and consequential effects on Filipinos back home.

On December 10th, President Aquino called for the Department of Justice (DOJ) to drop all charges against the 43 Health Workers (known as the Morong 43) who were illegally arrested, tortured and detained for the past 10 months on baseless accusations of being members of the New Peoples Army.  Aquino’s call does not, however, automatically release them as free citizens, replace the 10 months the Morong 43 spend imprisoned, or provide the lack of medical care otherwise received by the communities the Morong 43 served.  The Philippine government propagates this as a strategic act of compassion on International Human Rights day, however, it is the pressure of the international community which has demanded the release of the Morong 43.  This, along with the various community campaigns initated by the friends and family of the imprisoned 43,  the recent hunger strike, and the mainstream attention of the unjust incarceration are the true foundations of the Morong 43’s path to freedom and justice.

Human rights are not meant to be bartered, or overlooked for capital interests.  Violence and political repression  in the lives of everyday citizens speaks to the inexcusable corruption of the Philippine state.  Any nation providing military support or public funding to the Philippines to enact these crimes in the name of the “War on Terror”  is complicit in committing human rights violations against the Filipino people.   During these times,  it is vital that we remain vigilant of the Aquino administration, the DOJ, and their actions towards all victims of human rights violations.  The Morong 43 must be cleared of all charges, and unconditionally released with recompense.

Stop US military funding for the Philippines!

Release the Morong 43!

Surface all the desceparicedos! 

Free all political prisoners!

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Women Demand to JUNK the VFA!

 

As part of the 16 Days of Action to end violence against gender violence, GABRIELA-USA demands that President Obama thoroughly examine the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the Philippines, and its culpability in the ongoing violence against Filipino women at the hands of U.S. military servicemen for the last 11 years. The women of Pinay, a member organization of Gabriela USA, stands in solidarity nationally and internationally with all those who stand firm to end violence against women.

The United States military, through the VFA, is responsible for crimes to the Philippine people around US military bases in the Philippines, especially the crimes against women. This agreement violates Philippine sovereignty by allowing foreign access to all parts of the country and the people. Increased militarization creates a culture of fear and supports the use of violence, aggression, or military interventions for settling disputes and enforcing US economic and political interests. Women are the most affected at the hands of US militarization.

In 2006, Lance Corporal Daniel Smith was convicted for raping a Filipina woman named “Nicole” and was sentenced to 40 years in jail. Although the Philippine Supreme Court decision called for him to be turned over to Philippine custody, Smith has not served a day of his sentence in a Filipino jail. Through the VFA, the U.S. maintains him in U.S. custody. The fire on this case was reignited when Smith in 2009 offered a settlement for damages with Nicole, in the amount of 100,000 Pesos ($2,000 USD). Nicole and her family accepted the settlement and decided to relocate to the United States, stating, “There is no justice in the Philippines.”

The United States military, through the VFA, is responsible for the abuse that Nicole experienced and must be recognized as such. Rape culture is condoned worldwide, and domestically in the United States, sexual abuse continues to be a huge problem. Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) reports that, “Sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes, with 60% still being left unreported.” Due to this substantial underreporting and the continued failures of the current justice system, RAINN estimates that only about 6% of rapists ever serve a day in jail.

GABRIELA USA  is united in the ongoing fight to tear down the VFA and end the U.S. military presence in the Philippines.

For more information on IDEVAW, please visit the 16 Days of Activism homepage – http://16dayscwgl.rutgers.edu/2010-campaign/theme-announcement

FILIPINO-AMERICANS IN NY SAY “10 YEARS IS ENOUGH! JUNK VFA!”

News Release
29 May 2009

Reference: Jonna Baldres, BAYAN USA North East Co-Coordinator, jonnabebeh@gmail.com

FILIPINO-AMERICANS IN NY SAY “10 YEARS IS ENOUGH! JUNK VFA!”

NEW YORK – BAYAN USA, with its member organizations and allies in the New York/New Jersey area, gathered on May 27 in front of the Philippine Consulate in 5th Avenue to call for an end to the 10-year-long Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), a treaty between the Philippine and the United States governments believed by the said alliance to have been detrimental to the Filipino people.

“May 27 marks 10 years of institutionalized atrocities against our people. But in fact, it’s not only 10 years, but more than a hundred years, that we have been suffering in the hands of the US imperialist. The Philippine-American war of 1899 had been the blueprint of the US war of aggression, and the human rights violations inflicted upon our people are much worse than ever to this day,” Gary Labao of the New York Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines (NYCHRP) said.

BAYAN USA also lambasted the Philippine government and demanded its accountability for the abduction of Melissa Roxas, a Filipino-American activist and a member of Habi Arts, a cultural organization and a member organization of BAYAN USA in Los Angeles. Melissa came back to the Philippines in 2007 to work as a full-time health worker and was abducted by who were suspected to be military elements last May 19 in Tarlac with two other companions. Days later, Melissa and her companions were surfaced, but BAYAN USA remains firm in its stand to demand justice for the abducted.

“I personally know Melissa, and I know very well that she does not deserve these acts of monstrosity carried upon her by the Philippine government. This abduction of Melissa and her companions is part of the Philippine government’s anti-insurgency program, Oplan Bantay Laya II, to serve its own economic and political interests. And as binded by the VFA, the US also takes part in this crime by funding the military activities and exercises of the Philippine government through the US tax dollars! And the US, now under the leadership of Obama, had just put one of its citizens in danger by letting Melissa get in the hands of these bloody perpetrators!” Bernadette Ellorin, BAYAN USA Chairperson, exclaimed in outrage.

Aside from the abduction of Melissa and countless other activists and civilians, the VFA has also resulted to the rape of Filipino women by US military elements. “Vanessa”, a 22-year-old Filipina, was victimized by “John Jones,” a US Marine and a member of the Joint US Military Assistance Group (JUSMAG) operating in the Philippines under the guise of the Balikatan (translated as “shoulder-to-shoulder”) exercises.

“The VFA paved the way for the US to exploit the bodies and the dignity of our fellow Filipinas. After Nicole, another rape victim, Vanessa, has come out but decided not to file a case because she was scared that the Philippine government would only favor the US, just like what happened in the case of Daniel Smith, who was acquitted from charges of raping Nicole. This is a clear indicator that the Filipino people has totally lost its trust in the Philippine government, as it only serves the whims of its master, the US imperialist,” said Melanie Dulfo of the New York-based Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment (FiRE).

Valerie Francisco, Vice Chair of GABRIELA-USA, also added that aside from women, children are also directly being victimized by the VFA, “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 in preparation for the Balikatan exercises. These acts of terrorism against the people, especially children, must be condemned and should not be allowed to continue and prosper!”

Representatives of indigenous organizations who attended the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) in New York City from May 18-29 also joined the protest action. Windel Bolinget of Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA) and Dulphing Ogan of KALUMARAN, also shared stories of cruelty that they have experienced under the Visiting Forces Agreement. From North to South, militarization has been rampant in their communities and their self-determination as indigenous peoples has been disrespected in many circumstances.

Yves Nibungco, Deputy Secretary General of Anakbayan New York/New Jersey, also criticized the Philippine government for spending too much on militarization and the Balikatan exercises instead of providing the Filipino youth with the much-needed books and classrooms.

Allies from International Action Center (IAC), Fight Imperialism Stand Together (FIST) and May 1st Coalition were also present and delivered solidarity messages.

After the action at the Philippine Consulate, the Filipino contingent marched towards the US Armed Forces Recruitment Station in 42nd Street in Times Square while chanting anti-VFA slogans. The whole BAYAN USA and GABRIELA USA contingents staged a die-in right in the middle of the famous New York tourist spot to deliver the message that the Filipino people want the US troops out of the Philippines and that they want the VFA scrapped.

Protest actions led by BAYAN USA were also held in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and teach-ins on the VFA were held in Seattle & San Diego.

For more information: http://www.bayanusa.org

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10 Years Too Long, 200 People Too Many: Filipinos Across the U.S. Call for the Termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement and Justice for the Disappeared

JUNK VFA! Justice for Roxas and Carabeo! Surface Handoc! BAYAN USA

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 27, 2009
Reference: Rhonda Ramiro, 415-377-2599, secgen@bayanusa.org, http://www.bayanusa.org

10 Years Too Long, 200 People Too Many: Filipinos Across the U.S. Call for the Termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement and Justice for the Disappeared

In the wake of the abduction of Filipino American human rights advocate and health worker Melissa Roxas and her companions Juanito Carabeo and John Edward Handoc one week ago in the Philippines, BAYAN-USA launches actions against the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) today, the 10th anniversary of the VFA’s ratification. BAYAN-USA demands the termination of the VFA and justice for victims of abduction and all human rights violations, which have climbed to record levels in the Philippines since the VFA was ratified on May 27, 1999.

“Human rights violations have escalated to unprecedented heights since 2001, when Gloria Macapagal Arroyo became president and the U.S. launched its ‘war on terror.’ It is no coincidence that the Visiting Forces Agreement was ratified just two years earlier in 1999,” stated BAYAN-USA Secretary General Rhonda Ramiro. “The VFA paved the way for U.S. military advisers, troops and equipment to flood the Philippines and to train and equip the Philippine military which has been implicated in 1,017 extra-judicial killings and 1,010 cases of torture. Melissa’s abduction adds an American citizen to the list of over 200 victims of enforced disappearance under Arroyo.”

Roxas, Carabeo, and Handoc, all members of a volunteer health worker team preparing for a medical mission in La Paz, Tarlac, Philippines, were reportedly abducted at gunpoint on May 19 by at least eight heavily-armed masked men riding motorcycles and in a van without license plates. The circumstances of their abduction typify the pattern of dozens of politically-motivated abductions of activists critical of the Arroyo administration, and evidence points to the military as responsible for these acts. Roxas and Carabeo were officially surfaced on May 24 and 25, respectively; unconfirmed reports of Handoc’s surfacing were received as of the writing of this statement. Because the vast majority of abductions and enforced disappearances remain unresolved, BAYAN-USA believes their surfacing was a direct result of rapid community response and an international campaign by BAYAN Philippines, BAYAN-USA, and the human rights organization Karapatan.

“While we are elated that Melissa and Juanito have surfaced and that John Edward might also have been found, we are outraged that they were even abducted in the first place,” said Ramiro. “We call for justice for all three, including a full investigation and prosecution of the abductors.”

“The abduction of Melissa, Juanito and John Edward is directly linked to the VFA and U.S. military aid to the Philippines,” continued Ramiro. “The U.S. government cannot claim ignorance or wash its hands of responsibility, when it is U.S. advisors who are training the Philippine military, U.S. aid that is funding the military training, and U.S. guns and bullets that are being used to threaten and kill innocent civilians.”

BAYAN-USA claims that despite its rhetoric of “change,” the administration of President Barack Obama has clung to Bush’s foreign policy when it comes to the Philippines. Earlier this year, President Obama phoned Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to express support for the VFA and continuing the annual joint military exercises known as “Balikatan” (“Shoulder-to-Shoulder”). The estimated total expense borne by U.S. taxpayers for U.S. militarization in the Philippines since the VFA was enacted in 1999 is a lofty $1 billion. An additional $660 million—up from a reported $400 million just one month ago—is reportedly set to be granted to the Philippines in the coming year.

The VFA also provides justification for the basing of U.S. troops throughout the country, in what is widely perceived as an affront to national sovereignty. Moreover, witnesses have observed U.S. troops participating in combat operations, which is in violation of the VFA itself. In the months of February-May this year alone, the “Balikatan” exercises also led directly to the killing of a young girl and wounding of four more children, the rape of 22 year old Filipina “Vanessa,” and the forced displacement of tens of thousands of residents in Bicol where the exercises were held. No one was held responsible for the killing of the child, and although there was clear evidence that “Vanessa” was raped by a U.S. marine, she refrained from pressing charges because she did not believe she could obtain justice. “Vanessa’s” rape was committed just weeks after the acquittal of U.S. Marine Daniel Smith, who was the only American ever convicted of raping a Filipina despite reports of thousands of rapes committed by U.S. military personnel.

“The VFA fosters a culture of militarization and violence, and both the U.S. and Philippine military are guilty of committing human rights violations with impunity,” stated Ramiro. “Melissa’s abduction should give Congress and the Obama administration even more impetus to terminate the VFA and stop pouring billions of dollars into a regime that abducts and kills innocent people. In the face of a budget deficit in the trillions, it is unconscionable to continue providing aid to the Arroyo government and to perpetuate the costly VFA. Congress should cut both during the budget appropriations process this spring and summer.”

BAYAN-USA is an alliance of progressive Filipino groups in the U.S. representing organizations of students, scholars, women, workers, and youth. As an international chapter of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN-Philippines), BAYAN-USA serves as an information bureau for the national democratic movement of the Philippines and as a campaign center for anti-imperialist Filipinos in the U.S. BAYAN-USA’s online petition against the VFA can be found at http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/JunkVFAnow/. The online petition to demand justice for Roxas, Carabeo, and Handoc can be found at http://www.gopetition.com/online/28021.html.

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Actions being held in the U.S.

Los Angeles
Vigil in front of the PhilippineConsulate
Wednesday, May 27, 2009, 7:30pm
3600 Wilshire Blvd (between S Harvard Blvd and S Kingsley Dr)
Los Angeles, CA 90010

New York
Rally at the Philippine Consulate and March to Military Recruitment Center
Wednesday, May 27, 2009, 5:30 PM
556 Fifth Ave., New York

San Francisco
Action and Meeting with the Philippine Consulate
Wednesday, May 27, 2009, 4:00 PM
447 Sutter Street, San Francisco

Teach-In on the VFA
Wednesday, May 27, 2009, 6:00-8:00 PM
At South of Market Community Action Center
1070 Howard Street, San Francisco

Seattle
Visiting Forces Agreement Teach-In
Thursday, March 28, 6:30-8:30 PM
Filipino Community Center, 5740 Martin Luther King Jr. Way

San Diego
“As If They Never Left” Teach-In on the VFA
Thursday, May 28, 7:00-9:00 PM
At Filipino American Veterans Association Hall
2926 Market Street, San Diego

NY FilAm Women Support Vanessa, Point to Jones and the VFA as National Security Threats

Press Statement

May 16, 2009

Reference: Valerie Francisco, Chairperson, Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment (FiRE), fire.nyc@gmail.com, 925-726-5768

NY FilAm Women Support Vanessa, Point to Jones and the VFA as
National Security Threats

New York, NY- Filipino American Women of Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment (FiRE) express their disgust with the continuing rapes and crimes that U.S. Marines perpetrate on women in the Philippines. As Filipinas in New York City, we denounce the rape of “Vanessa,” another 22-year old woman victimized by a U.S. Marine, “John Jones”. Jones, a member of the Joint U.S. Military Assistance Group (JUSMAG), created under the Balikatan (literally translated as “shoulder to shoulder” exercises in the Philippines, must be held accountable for this despicable crime.

The exercises count up to 6,000 US troops deployed to a Philippine province, Bicol, among others. They have and continue to pose a threat to the welfare of Filipino women, as exemplified with this past rape case. News of Vanessa’s rape comes just weeks after the Subic Bay Rape Case of “Nicole” was overturned in April 2009 and LCPL Daniel Smith, her convicted rapist, was set free. Smith’s release and the manipulated case of Nicole gives US military servicemen in the Philippines free reign to do whatever they want without any consequence.

The Philippine government surrendered sovereignty and justice to appease US-RP relations and unwittingly set a precedent for US military troops in the Philippines. Gloria Arroyo, along with the Court of Appeals, has sanctioned the abuse and violation of Filipino women by setting Daniel Smith free. And now, the people are feeling the repercussions.

Unlike Nicole, Vanessa has not decided to wage a legal battle because she is afraid that the government, especially the Philippine judicial system, will only rule in favor of “Jones” and, indirectly, an untarnished U.S. image in the Philippines. The protection of assailants like Smith, and now Jones, under the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) proves that the Philippines’ priority is their political relationship with the U.S. instead of their human relationship with its citizens. The VFA has kept military personnel under U.S. jurisdiction allowing them to commit and ultimately get away with offenses towards Filipinos, a complete insult to Philippine sovereignty.

The VFA has historically compromised the safety, justice, and security of the Filipino people, and has wreaked havoc on the lives of Filipino women and children. 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 in preparation for the Balikatan exercises. The local human rights chapter of KARAPATAN stated that 8 civilians, including 5 children, were wounded in alleged government offensives preparing for BALIKATAN. From 1981 to 1988, there have been 3,272 cases of abuse against women and children by U.S. servicemen in Subic Bay and Clark Airforce bases, of which no convictions have been made. Since the adoption of the VFA in 1999, cases by US military against Filipinos have been absorbed in the protective measures of the policy. The VFA can count Nicole and Vanessa on its list of victims, and the count is growing. The VFA is an overbearing agreement that has favored the U.S. military over the welfare of Filipino women.

This upcoming May 27 marks 10 years of the VFA in the Philippines and GMA has yet to cease singing its praises. She has allowed the VFA to shrink Philippine independence, sovereignty, and autonomy at the cost of Filipino women’s bodies, respect, and dignity. The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) released a fact sheet about the VFA that claims it is the “backbone of the soft approach to combating terrorism” and that promises the agreement will “directly benefit the Filipino people through its civil-military and humanitarian component.” But the absolute opposite is happening. In reality, the VFA and Jones are the real threats to national security.

Along with the VFA anniversary coming up, the 2010 budget proposed by President Obama mentions that there will be an increase of $24.1 million to the Philippines’ development aid, which is a total of $118.7 million for 2010 compared to $94.6 million of 2009. The Philippines receives the highest level of International Military Education and Training (IMET) funds in East Asia and the Pacific and the 12th biggest share of U.S. Foreign Military Financing (FMF) in the world. As aid and military exercises continue in the Philippines, it is undeniable that crimes against women and children will increase.

As Filipino Americans in the U.S., we are furious at the increase of budgetary allowances for military aid in the Philippines considering the amount of abuse that continue to surface as a result of militarization. We Fil-Am women in New York City witness the increasing foreclosures in our community, the decreasing services for our community and others and the increasingly difficult times in employment and survival here. We wonder why those millions of dollars are going to another country endangering a whole population of women and children at the same time as women and children here are suffering. We cannot ignore the fact that maddening logic only endangers the Filipino people through militarization also endangers communities here in New York.

Sisters of Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment in NYC denounce the VFA that allows U.S. military servicemen to run amok with sex crimes and rapes. We condemn Gloria Arroyo for supporting such an imbalanced policy that has blatantly threatened the security and safety of Filipino women and children. We call for the Obama administration to precisely examine the conditions under which US military aid is going and the consequences of this aid on the Filipino people.

We extend our deepest in solidarity with Vanessa and her family at this hard time. We stand with GABRIELA Philippines in their call to repeal the VFA and restore sovereignty to the Philippines through genuine democracy. On May 27, FiRE NYC and other members of GABRIELA-USA in the United States, in concert with members of GABRIELA Philippines, will be holding actions against the VFA internationally.

Junk VFA!
No to Another Generation of Comfort Women!
US Troops Out of the Philippines!

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