February 21, 2009
Reference: Joanne Alcantara, GABRIELA-USA, National Coordinator (206) 859-7525, email:gabrielawomen@gmail.com

Remove all U.S. Troops from the Philippines!
Put Daniel Smith in the Custody of the Filipino People!

Since the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) was signed under the Estrada administraion 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 exercise suggesting equality and fraternity bewteen Philippine and US politics is causing more damage than friendship.

Just days ago on February 19, Rafaela Polborido, a 16-month old girl was killed in a province in Bicol,  after government soldiers hit her home with grenades. The local human rights chapter of KARAPATAN, stated that 8 civilians, including 5 children, were wounded in what they believed to be government offensives related to preparations for the arrival of the U.S. troops for Balikatan exercises. However, these stories of civilian casualties, interruptions of daily life and community grievances are hardly exposed.
U.S. military presence in the Philippines strikes a very painful chord for the Filipino people, especially women and children who have been historically 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 recent case of Marine Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith who was conviceted of the rape of 22-year old Nicole and who has been sentenced to 40 years in prison for raping a Filipina in 2006, but has still been in the custody of the U.S. embassy. On February 11, the Philippine Supreme Court ruled that the government should begin negotiations to have Smith transferred to a Philippine detention facility. These are only two of the hundreds of cases that come with 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 2000, around 2,500 U.S. troops were deployed to in the upcoming military games in 2009, an expected 6,000 U.S. soldiers will spend time in Central Luzon from February 25 to April 30. Major Ramon Zagala said Washington D.C. would spend at least 2 million in U.S. tax dollars on these exercises and would bring in a number of warships and aircraft, including F-16 fighter planes. Inevitably, the US military presence will impact the lives of Filipino women and children.
In the midst of an intense economic  predicaments, US dollars unnecessarily spent is coming into close scrutiny by Filipino American women’s organizations, “Instead of spending millions of dollars on military games, that money should be going towards the economic crisis of budget  cuts that have devastated the United States’ social welfare 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!