“We should be out there and we should be telling everybody else and we should do our part in seeing to it that this does not happen again. Not to another woman, not to another girl, definitely not to our youth,” a participant told the audience.
By Angely Chi
DAVAO CITY — The alleged rape in Subic by U.S. soldiers of a 22-year-old Filipina should be a wake-up call for Davaoenos, particularly women, who should condemn the violence and injustice allegedly committed by U.S. forces on Philippine soil in the past years, participants in a forum said last week.
In a forum here last Nov. 22 on the Subic rape case, women activists and human rights advocates decried what they called as the oppressive mechanisms of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), which supposedly governs the conduct of foreign military in the Philippines. The forum participants called for the abolition of the VFA.
Most felt that the rape of the woman from Zamboanga City was not only a crime against her but against the country.
Lyda Canson of the Bathaluman Crisis Center criticized President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo for condoning the statement her press secretary made – that this was an “isolated case.” According to Canson, the case was just one of the thousands of sexual abuse cases filed against American military personnel since the 1980s, when the U.S. military was still based in Subic and Clark. Most of these cases, according to reports by women’s groups in Manila, had been dismissed or settled out of court.
Canson called Arroyo a “macho woman” for her alleged indifference to the rape survivor and for her support of the continuing military exercises being held in the Philippines by U.S. forces.
Lawyer Concepcion Jayme-Brizuela, a convenor of InPeace Mindanao and a member of the Union of People’s Lawyers in Mindanao, told the forum that the VFA is unconstitutional and oppressive to the Filipinos due to its provisions that tend to favor the Americans.
Jayme-Brizuela said that under the VFA, the U.S. military can freely conduct military exercises anywhere in the country “without proper documentation.” U.S. military personnel are also given special treatment in matters such as driving and vehicle registration, importation and exportation of equipment, and criminal jurisdiction, among others.
The U.S. embassy, in a statement on Nov. 3, said, however, that VFA “provides the mechanism for U.S. and Filipino authorities to work together to determine the facts of the case and to ensure that accused individuals are available to both Filipino and U.S. investigators, since the allegations would be crimes under both Filipino and U.S. law.”
The U.S., the statement added, “will strictly adhere to the provisions of the VFA, and will cooperate closely with Philippine authorities to ensure this case is handled fairly and that justice is done.”
Columnist and Ateneo de Davao University psychology professor Gail Ilagan strongly condemned the alleged rape incident. She also expressed outrage at the way U.S. military presence in the country has corrupted Filipinos.
“We should be out there and we should be telling everybody else and we should do our part in seeing to it that this does not happen again. Not to another woman, not to another girl, definitely not to our youth,” Ilagan told the audience.
Sister Celine Cajanding of the Women, Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Religious of the Good Shepherd, gave a theological reflection on the US military’s “visiting by force and no agreement,” citing a passage from the Book of Amos in the Bible: “I will not turn back my wrath because he ripped open pregnant women of Gilead in order to extend his borders.”
“The same image drastically portrays the intensity of the suffering and gravity of the offense in the case of the Subic rape case. God tells us today that such rape is condemnable to the highest heavens. That such rape is not only an offense against the individual woman, the human person, but an affront to all womanhood and humanity, and particularly to a whole nation,” she said.
Sittie Sundang of the Kalinaw Mindanao Women’s Team, on the other hand, spoke of the alleged atrocities committed by U.S. forces during their stay in Mindanao. She recalled an incident during another Balikatan exercise held in Carmen, North Cotabato, wherein U.S. forces allegedly did a clearing operation in a Moro community. An old woman had a heart attack and died on the spot while another woman had a nervous breakdown due to fear when two helicopters circled above them and landed in the community.
Sundang also exposed the alleged widespread prostitution last year in Carmen due to the presence of U.S. soldiers there.
She cited reports about women from different municipalities being picked up and brought to the 602nd Infantry Brigade camp where the last year’s Balikatan exercises were being held.
Canson, of the Bathaluman Crisis Center, waxed historic as she recalled the protests against the U.S. bases in the 1990s. “Remember in 1990, thousands of women went to the streets to protest the presence of the U.S. military in Subic, Pampanga. Three-fourths of those who took to the streets were women,” she said. “If it is true that we take care of life, let us take care of the lives of the youth who will take over us.” (Bulatlat.com)