Tag Archives: Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA)

The Philippines Should Stop Being US’s Pawn and Warfront

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Statement on International Women’s Day:

Today, over five hundred (500) women gathered early in front of the University of Sto. Tomas to mark the International Women’s Day. This was the starting point of their march towards Mendiola where women affiliated with the World March of Women (WMW)-Pilipinas demanded accountability of the highest in command of the recent tragedy in Mamasapano.

The women’s march was joined by human rights groups Amnesty International, the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA), labor groups such as SENTRO and Partido ng Manggagawa, all calling for peace and self-determination in Mindanao and an end to the intervention in national affairs by the United States.

“The death of transwoman Jennifer Laude in the hands of a US soldier and the death of the child Sarah Panangulon in Mamasapano, are in the same context of US wars,” stated Jean Enriquez, Philippine Coordinator of the WMW. “Olongapo murder suspect Joseph Scott Pemberton’s ship USS Peleliu ensures amphibious US presence in the Western Pacific, while the PNP SAF operation responsible for Sarah’s murder was clearly sponsored by the US war on terror,” she added.

The group underscored the economic interest of the US in Mindanao in particular, the Philippines and the region in general, as the US “pivot to Asia” strategy started in 2011, or the transfer of military resources to the region, coinciding with a Trans-Pacific Partnership Economic agreement. As a result, “women, children, the environment are considered collateral damages,” according to the WMW statement.

“Jennifer’s murder is a hate crime committed by a US soldier who enjoys the protection of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA),” declared the group. “Even in court, the unequal relations manifest in allowing the attendance of several US military personnel while limiting Jennifer’s side to only her immediate family and her lawyers,” said their statement.

Carrying roses to symbolize their call for peace, the women also wore pink shirts with the slogan “Pagkain, hindi Bala.” They were demanding that President Benigno Aquino III be also held accountable for his role in the tragedy, as reports clearly pointed to his direct knowledge of the operation, beginning with the appointment of suspended PNP Chief Alan Purisima and strengthened by their correspondence. “Evidently, the only consideration of this operation was the US’s desire to get Marwan and show a positive development in its war on terror, without regard for the Muslim communities that would suffer as well as the peace process that would be compromised,” stated Virgie Suarez, Chairperson, of KAISA KA.

The WMW and supporting organizations lamented that the ongoing military offensive already displaced 8,130 families, with women bearing the most of the hardships and dangers that go with the need to evacuate. Young women and children become more prone to trafficking and prostitution.

They called for a political and economic solution, not war, to resolve the problems in the area. WMW also called for an end to the VFA and all agreements that “tie the country to an unequal defense relation with the US and make the government an accomplice to the US war crimes in its unending quest for world dominance.”

The program in Mendiola ended with the women’s movement’s emblematic song “Bread and Roses” as the women leaders demanded justice for all victims of US militarism. Similar marches were conducted by WMW members in Cavite, Cebu, Davao, and Gen. Santos City.

Participating organizations included Focus on the Global South, Freedom from Debt Coalition, Partido Lakas ng Masa (PLM), LBT groups, anti-trafficking groups Action against Violence and Exploitation, Inc. (ACTVE) and CATW-AP, prostitution survivor groups Bagong Kamalayan and Buklod, migrant groups such as Center for Migrant Advocacy (CMA).

Women’s organizations present were Kababaihan-Pilipinas, KAISA-KA, KAMP, the indigenous women’s group LILAK, Piglas Kababaihan, Pambansang Koalisyon ng Kababaihan sa Kanayunan (PKKK),SARILAYA, Transform Asia, WomanHealth Phils., Women’s Legal and Human Rights Bureau (WLB), Welga ng Kababaihan, Women’s Crisis Center, Youth and Students Advancing Gender Equality (YSAGE), and World March of Women – Pilipinas.

Women’s Coalitions Launch 18 Days of Activism against Violence, Declares: WE ARE ALL JENNIFER!

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On the eve of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (VAW), which marks the start of the 18 Days of Activism Against VAW, women’s groups held a press conference and rally in front of the US Embassy. The coalitions announced today that they unite in focusing on the call for justice for Jennifer Laude during this 18-day campaign period which starts on November 25, and will sustain the campaign until justice is served.

“We are all Jennifer!,” declared Jean Enriquez of the World March of Women, in behalf of the other women’s groups and supporting social movements who also participated in a rally in front of the US Embassy. “The commodification, the objectification, the hate crime, the murder of Laude are illustrative of the continuum of violence against women suffered by many women, including trans women,” added Enriquez. She explained how various forms of violence against women, including sexual harassment, physical and economic abuse, rape and others, share the same roots – that of gender inequality, that of keeping women in a subordinated status in society, and are interrelated, sometimes recurring in a woman’s life.

“Jennifer Laude was killed because of her sexual orientation and gender identity – because she is a trans woman,” said Jelen Paclarin, a leader of the Philwomen on ASEAN. Paclarin added that the groups demand the Philippine government, particularly the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Department of Justice (DOJ), to exhaust all legal measures to ensure that Jennifer’s perpetrator will be punished under Philippine law.

Groups of transgender women highlighted the continuing spate of hate crimes against transwomen, such as the killing of two others in Quezon province, weeks after Laude was killed on October 11, 2014. Naomi Fontanos, Executive Director of GANDA Filipinas, stated that “as long as patriarchal beliefs and attitudes, sexism and machismo exist, there will be more Jennifer Laudes.” She stressed the need to expand anti-violence interventions to address those directed towards lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Filipinos.

Among the coalitions present is the Scrap VFA Coalition, represented by Proleta Nunez. They underscored that the Visiting Forces Agreement has to go, along with the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the US. “The EDCA, like the military bases agreement, will likely be committing violence against women once it becomes operational,” said Nunez.

The women leaders vowed to be vigilant, especially during the Christmas season, as they remembered how US soldier Daniel Smith, then convicted with rape of a Filipina by a lower court, was transferred to US custody a few days before New Year. In the next 16 days, activities to increase awareness on the Jennifer Laude case, on sexual violence, hate crimes and US militarism, will be held. Among these are:

December 5 – Conversations with LGBT groups
December 8 – Scrap VFA Forum, UP Institute of Human Rights
December 9 – Premiere of Pink Documentary, Trinoma
December 10 – Human Rights Day Rally
December 12 – Trans Film Showing as part of Pink Fest, Trinoma
December 13 – QC LGBT Pride March.

After the press conference, the women leaders, all wearing purple, proceeded to join the 150-strong mobilization that marched along Kalaw St., from Plaza Salamanca in Taft Avenue to the US Embassy. Upon meeting the mobilization, they took off their purple shirts to reveal their red shirts, “symbols of resistance,” with the slogan “We are all Jennifer!,” similar to those worn by the marchers.

Underscoring that US military presence worsens violence against women, the marchers raised crossed arms as act of protest against militarism and gender-based violence. November 24 was also the day that the last soldiers left Subic Naval Base by plane 22 years ago after extension of the bases lease was rejected by the Philippine Senate. However, VFA and EDCA were signed afterwards, which saw the rise in prostitution, rape and other forms of violence in areas opened to US military.

Upon reaching Plaza Ferguson, the women formed a huge human cross to signify that violence against women, hate crimes, and US military presence have no place in their lives as women, in society. “We seek to eliminate hate crimes, we seek to cross out gender-based violence, and we seek to end militarism.”

PARTICIPATING GROUPS:

Association of Transgender People in the Philippines (ATP) • Bagong Kamalayan • Buklod •
Buklod ng Nagkakaisang Kababaihan • CATW-AP • Center for Migrant Advocacy •
Development Action for Women Network • Focus on the Global South • Freedom from Debt Coalition • GANDA Filipinas • KAISA-KA • Kilusan para sa Pambansang Demokrasya •
LILAK (Purple Action for Women’s Rights) • Partido ng Manggagawa • Piglas Kababaihan •
Philwomen on ASEAN • PKKK • RENEW • SARILAYA • SCRAP VFA • SENTRO •
Women’s Education, Development, Productivity and Research Organization (WEDPRO) •
WomanHealth Phils. • Women’s Legal and Human Rights Bureau (WLB) • Women’s Crisis Center • World March of Women – Pilipinas • Youth and Students Advancing Gender Equality (YSAGE)