Strike 2 for the Visiting Forces Agreement

bu-op-icons-benjieBy BENJIE OLIVEROS
Bulatlat perspective

The refusal of the US government to turn over Lance Cpl. Joseph Scott Pemberton to Philippine custody, despite his conviction of homicide in the killing of Jennifer Laude, as well as the servile obedience of the Philippine government, gives the Filipino people another reason for demanding the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement(VFA) and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the US. The VFA is being cited by the Philippine Department of Justice (DOJ) and Department of Foreign Affairs in justifying their refusal to implement the order of the court to remand Pemberton to the National Bilibid Prisons to serve his sentence.

This is the second time that a US soldier is able to elude justice for committing a heinous crime against Filipino citizens here in our very own country. The first was Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith who was convicted of raping Filipina “Nicole” in 2005 and was spirited out of the Makati City Jail by US and Philippine government officials and detained at the US embassy. Nicole and her family were pressured until Nicole retracted her statement identifying Smith as her attacker. As a result, Smith was acquitted and Nicole was brought to America.

It is not far fetched that the US, with the obeisance of the Philippine government, would employ the same pressure and tactics on the Laude family. The fact that Pemberton was not imprisoned shows that they do not intend to make him serve his six- to 12-year sentence.

This is dangerous since the Philippine government, in signing the EDCA, has allowed the permanent presence of more US troops and the establishment of US bases all over the country. The Filipino people would soon suffer the oppression that the South Korean people have been suffering with the presence of US troops.

Citing government statistics, the Civil Network for a Peaceful Korea revealed that “50,082 crimes were committed by US soldiers from 1967 to 1998 (including those by soldiers’ families), and 56,904 US soldiers were involved (including soldiers’ families) in these crimes.” Also, “the total number of crimes committed by US soldiers since September 8, 1945 (when they were first stationed in Korea) is estimated to be around 100,000.”

According to the same report, “Study by Ministry of Justice of south Korea shows that among the 39,452 cases (45,183 US soldiers involved) of crimes committed by US soldiers from 1967 to 1987, south Korea was able to exercise its jurisdiction only in 234 cases, punishing only 351 US soldiers. Among them, 84 US soldiers were convicted of rape and 89 US soldiers were convicted of murder and robbery. Taking into account the fact that rape cases were more common before 1967, and that many rape cases were intentionally hidden and forgotten, the actual number of rape cases committed by US soldiers will be much higher than what official figures suggest.”

The report also mentioned the following appalling cases: “Countless cases of rape were committed by US soldiers, including a woman gang raped by four soldiers’ in March 1946, a 14-year-old schoolgirl raped in 1956, a daughter and a mother both raped in 1967, a woman raped by eight soldiers in the mountains in 1971, a month pregnant teacher raped in 1986 by five soldiers in the middle of Team Spirit military exercise, a handicapped schoolgirl sexually harassed in 1996, and a six-year-old girl sexually harassed in May 1997.”

The fact that the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the US and South Korean governments – which is much like the US-PH VFA – provides the latter very limited and narrow jurisdiction over crimes committed by US troops stationed in that country, resulted in impunity in the commission of these crimes.

The same report by the Civil Network for a Peaceful Korea quoted Gregory Henderson, who served at the US embassy in Seoul in the 1950s and 1960s, who wrote:

” … Every US soldier from officer down enjoys material indulgence in Korea. Material indulgence includes abundant supply of fresh bodies of young local women.”

With the VFA and EDCA, and the servility of the Philippine government, it is no longer remote that the same social malady would be inflicted on the Filipino people, courtesy of US troops.

The Japanese people suffered the same. The crimes of US troops in Okinawa came to a head in 1995 when three US soldiers Marcus Gill, Rodrico Harp, and Kendrick Ledet kidnapped and raped a 12-year old Japanese girl. While the crime was committed on September 4, 1995, the US military initially refused to turn over custody of the three soldiers, citing the SOFA between the US and Japanese governments, despite repeated requests by Japanese officials. The three were turned over to Japanese custody only when they had been indicted on September 29.

This sparked massive protests participated in by tens of thousands in Okinawa demanding the removal of US bases. This prompted the Japanese and US governments to sign a 1996 agreement immediately reducing the size of the US base, with the commitment by the US to transfer its base to another location.

The three US servicemen were convicted and sentenced in March 1996: Gill and Harp seven years imprisonment and Ledet six and a half years. They served time in a Japanese prison and were released in 2003.

Although this did not completely put a stop to crimes committed by US soldiers in Japan, as the US base is still in Okinawa, but US officials turned over the erring soldiers to Japanese authorities promptly. The CNN reported in 2013 that two US servicemen Navy Seaman Christopher Daniel Browning and Petty Officer Skyler A Dozierwalker were convicted of raping a Japanese woman in October 2012. Browning was sentenced with imprisonment of 10 years and Dozierwalker nine years.

Immediately after their arrests in 2012, Lt. Gen. Salvatore Angelella, then commander of U.S. forces in Japan, put troops at Okinawa’s Kadena Air Base on a curfew and apologized to the victim. The two US servicemen were immediately turned over to Japanese officials and served their sentence in Japanese jails.

We are worse off as both Smith and Pemberton were never turned over to Philippine custody even after their conviction. Smith was even able to elude justice.

With the way the Philippine government has been acting, it appears that we are heading toward the direction of South Korea. The impunity would result in more crimes being committed by US troops in the country.

That is, unless the Filipino people, much like the Japanese people, come out in their thousands to call for the abrogation of the VFA, EDCA, the mother treaty the US-RP Mutual Defense Treaty and for the banning of US and all other foreign troops in the country.(

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