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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Reference: Raquel Redondiez, Chair, GABRIELA USA, gabrielawomen@gmail.com

GABRIELA USA CONDEMNS PERPETRATORS OF THE AMPATUAN MASSACRE, AND HOLDS GMA ACCOUNTABLE FOR THE STATE OF WARLORDISM AND CLIMATE OF IMPUNITY IN THE PHILIPPINES

The election-related carnage on the eve of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (IDEVAW) took the lives of 57 people, 14 women including
2 women lawyers and 17 journalists

San Francisco, CA–10 years ago, a United Nations Assembly resolved to recognize November 25 as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (IDEVAW) to work towards the end of violence affecting women all over the world. GABRIELA USA members from San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles and New York are taking this day to remember the significance of this international effort to raise awareness about women’s issues in the light of the horrific massacre which took place in Ampatuan, Maguindanao, in the island of Mindanao.

The death toll is rising in the massacre of unarmed civilians included lawyers, journalists, and at least 14 women who were not only murdered but also raped, mutilated and beheaded. The bodies were found buried on shallow ground on the side of the road where the 6 vehicle convoy carrying the victims were stopped in broad daylight on November 23rd. The victims where on their way to file election paperwork with the Commission on Elections to challenge the ruling political clan in the upcoming elections.

This incident cannot be separated from the thousands of other human rights violations committed under the Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA) regime, wherein hundreds of women activists, leaders and community members have been killed, abducted, tortured and disappeared with impunity.

Arroyo’s share of responsibility for this massacre is certain as she has repeatedly facilitated and funded armed clan-based militias, utilizing US military aid, and has created the state of impunity in the Philippines where her close political allies could conceive of
carrying out such a heinous crime in broad daylight.  In fact, until today, no arrests has been made in the horrific crime, despite the
fact, or because of the fact, that the tractor used to hide the bodies belongs to the local government, controlled by the Ampatuans, GMA’s close allies.

The UN Declaration for the Elimination of Violence Against Women calls for all forms violence, including those condoned by the State. GMA must be held accountable, and we must be vigilant in continuing to demand the arrest, thorough investigation, and prosecution of the perpetrators of the Maguindanao massacre. Many believe that the massacre was perpetrated by 100 men led by Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr., of the Ampatuan clan, which delivered what has been dubbed as the “Maguindanao Miracle” a 100% of the votes for GMA’s slate in the 2007 elections.

Moreover, we must continue to struggle against GMA’s anti-insurgency program Oplan Bantay Laya II, which provides license for state-sponsored violence against anyone who asserts their democratic rights.  This U.S.-sponsored plan, which calls for the extermination of the “communist insurgency” by 2010, is a formula for continuing impunity for the military and military-sponsored civilian militias to commit human rights violations, especially against those they label as “community-fronts”.

On this 10th anniversary of IDEVAW, GABRIELA- USA recommits to demand an end to U.S. military and financial aid to the GMA regime, who we hold accountable for the illegal abduction and torture of Filipino American woman Melissa Roxas in May of this year, and hundreds of other human rights violations against women and children.

The women of GABRIELA-USA believe that the Ampatuan Massacre is a foreshadow of an escalation in the violence and human rights violations to be expected this election season, and should be a reminder for all, including the international community, to
participate in ensuring clean and honest elections.

This IDEVAW, GABRIELA USA condemns the relentless violence of the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo regime against the Filipino people, especially women and children.  We stand in solidarity with women worldwide who are facing violence and will continue fighting for the day in which aggression towards women will no longer be tolerated.  And we will work pro-actively to support the election of genuine women’s representatives who will be our partners in this effort.

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Its has been 10 yrs since the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) has been active, allowing the U.S. to send troops to the Philippines. Its like the they never left…

The VFA allows U.S. troops into the Philippines without having to go through customs, where they are screened for things like the swine flu. Any soldier that may have the swine flu may walk in as they please where anyone else that may have at least one of the symptoms will be detained for a days. Furthermore, a Philippine citizen that may have caught the virus will have a hard time getting over the flu because health care is not affordable  which makes it lethal.

The VFA allows the U.S. troops full access anywhere in the Philippines. That means land, sea and air. They could even occupy a house that a family owns.

Collateral damage has increased due to weapons testing and exercises. Family have lost their houses, mothers, fathers, children due to these exercises. Bullets have entered houses while people were sleeping, killing innocent civilians.

U.S. troops  are above any laws in the Philippines. An example is the ‘Nicole’ case where a college student is raped by a U.S. soldier Daniel Smith. Smith was sentenced to jail in the Philippines, however, on his first night in jail he was taken to the U.S. Embassy. If a person was convicted for rape in the U.S. they would have to be in custody until the trial is over. 

Nicole and Vanessa, another Filipina that was raped, we can see that number of cases went up; belittling the rights of Filipinas; and that the Philippines judicial system is a joke because of how Smith was treated with a pardon. 

The VFA is funded by U.S. Taxdollars, therefore we as Americans have blood and injustice on our hands. The money that is funding the killing and injustice of the Filipinos can be used to bail out the struggling Americans in an economic crisis. 

We say no more blood on our hands and not in our name!

JUNK THE VFA!!!!

Basic CMYK

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

May 27, 2009

Reference: Rhonda Ramiro, 415-377-2599,

secgen@bayanusa.org, 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

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Rhonda Ramiro, secgen@bayanusa.org

May 14, 2009 www.bayanusa.org

Appalled by the double-news of the rape of another Filipina woman by a U.S. Marine and the increase in U.S. financial aid to the corrupt Philippine government, BAYAN-USA reiterated its call to terminate the U.S.-Philippines Visiting Forces Agreement (“VFA”), which the alliance of 14 Filipino American organizations in the U.S. sees as the red carpet used to usher in U.S. troops, supplies, and military training linked to thousands of human rights violations.

Under the auspices of the VFA, over 6,000 US troops were deployed to the Philippines this past April, to engage in so-called Balikatan (“shoulder-to-shoulder”) military exercises. In a press conference today, the 22-year-old Filipina “Vanessa” (not her real name) told the story of how she was raped in a hotel room on April 19 by a U.S. Marine, registered in hotel records as “from Joint U.S. Military Assistance Group/Balikatan.” According to the women’s group GABRIELA, Vanessa has decided not to file a case against her alleged rapist though there is evidence to support her claim.

“We are outraged that another Filipina has become the victim of U.S. troops, and that the VFA is blocking her from obtaining justice,” said BAYAN-USA Secretary General Rhonda Ramiro. “Last month’s acquittal of convicted rapist Lance Corporal Daniel Smith signals that U.S. military personnel can get away with the most heinous crimes on Philippine soil because they will be protected by the VFA.”

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 war and military deployment overseas. Earlier this year, President Obama phoned Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to express support for the VFA and continuing the Balikatan joint military exercises. The estimated total expense borne by U.S. taxpayers for U.S. militarization in the Philippines since the VFA was enacted nearly 10 years ago is a lofty $1 billion. An additional $660 million—up from a reported $400 million just one month ago—is reportedly set to be spent over the next few years.

“The only ‘change’ we see is the change being pocketed by the Arroyo government to rape and terrorize the Filipino people,” declared Ramiro. “Arroyo, her military, and multinational corporations are getting rich off the millions of dollars being paid by the U.S. government to commit torture, abductions, false imprisonment, and ultimately extrajudicial killings to silence critics of Arroyo and her neoliberal economic policies.”

This latest rape case and report of increased aid to the Philippines comes on the heels of an April 29, 2009 report by Philip Alston, U.N. Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions, which states that the Philippine government has failed to institute the substantive reforms Alston recommended to address extrajudicial killings and other human rights abuses in the country.

“The fact that hundreds of millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars are being used to commit rape and other human rights atrocities is unconscionable, especially now that we are in the midst of a depression,” stated Ramiro. “The fact that the VFA is being funded and enforced by the Obama administration is hypocrisy, especially after President Obama promised hope and change.”

In response, BAYAN-USA has announced it will conduct a “Day of Action against the VFA” on May 27, 2009 which marks the 10th anniversary of the military agreement. In synch with mobilizations in the Philippines calling for the termination of the VFA, the Day of Action will take place from coast-to-coast across the U.S. in what will be the latest expression of the indignation felt by Filipino Americans over the trampling of Philippine sovereignty by U.S. imperial interests. In March, BAYAN-USA and GABRIELA USA launched an online “Junk VFA” petition, which garnered over 1,000 signatures in two weeks and has reached nearly 2,000 signatures to date. At the beginning of May, BAYAN-USA also met with the office of Congresswoman Barbara Lee, to urge the representative—who is a member of the U.S. House Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on Foreign Operations—to support the call for the termination of all military aid to the Philippines pending the Philippine government’s compliance with recommendations in the Alston report to stop human rights violations and prosecute the perpetrators. The BAYAN-USA delegation also asked Representative Lee to introduce new legislation to stop the deployment of U.S. troops to the Philippines unless the said recommendations are implemented and to terminate the VFA.

“BAYAN-USA’s Day of Action against the VFA will send Congress the message that nobody wins and everybody loses with the VFA,” said Ramiro. “In the face of a budget deficit in the trillions and over 11 million people unemployed in the U.S., it simply makes no sense 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. The online petition against the VFA can be found at http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/JunkVFAnow/

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(Update) MANILA, Philippines – Lawyers and supporters willing to help “Vanessa” admitted Thursday they are left helpless after the alleged rape victim changed her mind and decided not to press rape charges against an American serviceman.

Lawyer Evalyn Ursua said “Vanessa” initially wanted to lodge a complaint against the supposed rapist – identified only as “John Jones” – but changed her mind at the last minute after considering the outcome of the rape case of another US soldier Lance Corporal Daniel Smith.

Ursua – legal counsel of Smith’s victim, Suzette “Nicole” Nicolas – rushed to the side of “Vanessa” and offered to help the new rape victim in case she decided to bring the matter to court.

“Ang gusto talaga namin ay dumating itong kasong ito sa korte. Iyan and ideal situation. Pero wala kaming magawa dahil ang biktima ay ayaw magsampa ng kaso,” the lawyer said in a press conference in Quezon City.

[We really want this incident to reach the court. That would be the ideal situation. But we cannot do anything since the victim refuses to file charges.]

Vanessa said she decided not to wage a legal battle for fear that the government, particularly the Philippine courts, would only rule in favor of Jones, just like what happened in Smith’s case.

Smith – a participant in the 2005 joint RP-US military exercise – was convicted in December 2006 of raping Nicole in Subic Bay. The lower court decision was later reversed last April by the Court of Appeals, and Smith immediately flew out of the country.

Before the CA reversal came out, Nicole issued an affidavit saying she no longer was sure whether or not Smith had raped her. At the same time, Nicole flew for the United States for good.

“That was one of Vanessa’s considerations. We learned a lesson from Nicole’s case. It showed how the government and the (Philippine) justice system treated the case. That was one of Vanessa’s fear,” Ursua said.

Ursua stressed they were respecting Vanessa’s decision not to file charges.

“Maybe what she wanted to happen was to vent out her grievances. That’s her way of helping herself, for healing and recovery,” she said.

Ursua expressed hopes that Vanessa would still reconsider her decision not to press charges. “Hindi natin alam kung ano ang desisyon niya in the future… But it’s possible [We don’t know how she will decide in the future. But it’s possible she will file charges],” she said.

The lawyer said a rape case cannot necessarily file rape case against Jones with “the people of the Philippines” acting as respondents.

“Kailangan pa rin niya na initiate ang pagsampa ng reklamo at dadaan pa rin siya ng preliminary investigation [Vanessa still has to initiate the rape case and undergo a preliminary investigation],” she said.

Rape?

During Thursday’s press conference at Gabriela’s main office in Quezon City, Vanessa – with her face covered – read out to reporters a detailed account of the events that happened on the day she was raped. In the middle of her speech, Vanessa broke into sobs.

Vanessa, a 22-year-old college student, claimed she was sexually assaulted by Jones on April 19 at hotel in a five-star hotel in Makati City.

Vanessa said she met Jones on April 10 in a bar in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City and had a series of text messages after that.

On the wee hours of April 19, Vanessa went out to a bar with her cousin and friend. Minutes later, Jones texted Vanessa and asked if he could also dropped by the bar where she was.

Jones arrived at the bar along with three other female friends. The US serviceman then asked Vanessa to accompany him to the Makati hotel where he was billeted, saying they would later be joined by other friends.

But to Vanessa’s surprise, no other people arrived in Jone’s room. It was at that time that Vanessa said she was raped. After the incident, Vanessa rushed to the hotel security to report the incident.

Vanessa was later asked to go by policemen to get a certification for her rape allegations before she underwent a medico-legal examination.

Prepared for raps

Gabriela said it currently does not have enough information about Vanessa’s alleged abuser except that Jones is a US Marine belonging to the Joint United States Military Assistance Group sent to the Philippines for this year’s Balikatan Exercises.

Ursua said they currently have no idea whether or not Jones has already left the country.

In case Vanessa changes her mind and decides to file charges, Ursua assured that they have all the required documents needed in the case including the victim’s sworn affidavit, a medico-legal report, as well as a photograph of the US serviceman.

Ursua lamented how violently Vanessa was treated by the US serviceman, saying bruises have appeared on the victim’s neck – a point Vanessa’s camp could use against Jones if the case goes to court. “Ang physical evidence ay nakita ng doctor na tumingin sa kaniya [The doctor who examined her saw physical evidence].” with Sophia Dedace, GMANews.TV

News Release

May 14, 2009

VFA discourages rape victims of US troops from filing cases – Bayan

Amid the latest incident involving an American soldier raping a Filipina, the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan blamed the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement as the “main obstacle” that prevents victims from pursuing their case in court.

In a press conference with the women’s group Gabriela, rape victim “Vanessa” disclosed how she was lured by a US military from the Joint US Military Assistance Group (JUSMAG). According to the women’s group, the victim has not decided to file a case against her rapist though there are already documents to support her claim.

“The bigger tragedy in the recent rape case is the view of the victim that she cannot get justice under Philippine law. The Nicole case and the acquittal or rapist Daniel Smith discourages victims from pursuing their case in court,” said Bayan secretary general Renato M. Reyes, Jr.

“So long as the VFA remains an anchor of RP-US relations, it will always weigh heavily on any criminal case involving US troops. So-called US relations will always take precedence. What can the victim expect from a legal system that acquitted Smith and called rape a ‘romantic episode’?” he added.

Bayan called on the Philippine Senate to exercise its oversight function and review the VFA, 10 years after Senate ratified it on May 27, 1999.

“The VFA has spawned so many problems, from rape to corruption, to human rights abuses. It is high time that the agreement be exposed for what it really is. It is a grossly one-sided pact that undermines our sovereignty and legal system,” Reyes said.

Bayan called the JUSMAG as “a permanent US military and intelligence outpost on Philippine soil”. The head of the JUSMAG is the representative of the Commander of the US Pacific Command. Its office is located at the US embassy in Roxas Boulevard in Manila.It used to be known as the Joint US Military Advisory Group.

“The JUSMAG has long operated in the country through the cold-war relic that is the Mutual Defense Treaty. It encompasses a broad range of activities including advising the AFP, conducting joint military exercises and facilitating various forms of military assistance,” Reyes said.  ###