Contact: Rhonda Ramiro
Secretary-General, BAYAN USA
BAYAN-USA, an alliance of Filipino organizations in the United States, declared the recent court acquittal of US Marine Daniel Smith of a rape conviction back in 2006 as a collaborative move by the US and Arroyo governments to protect the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).
The controversial decision comes right after a Philippine Supreme Court (SC) ruling to probe into the circumstances surrounding the affidavit issued by rape victim Nicole and the leakage of a draft Court of Appeals (CA) ruling of acquittal for Smith last week, prompting CA officials to act fast.
The 2005 rape of 22 year-old Filipina Nicole leading to the 2006 trial and conviction US Lance Corporal Smith was a landmark case that marked the first time in the 100+ history of US military presence in the country that a US military personnel was actually convicted under the Philippine judicial system for a crime committed in the Philippines. But the events following the celebrated conviction, beginning with Smith’s transfer of custody from Philippine jurisdiction to the US Embassy drew such outrage and condemnation from the streets that it sparked a burgeoning patriotic movement inside Philippine Congress to abrogate the 10 year-old VFA military agreement, which allows for the “temporary basing” of US military troops in over 20 ports throughout the Philippine archipelago.
“Washington and Malacanang panicked,” states BAYAN USA Chair Berna Ellorin. “They needed to do something drastic to stunt the rallying opposition against the VFA. The sacrificial lambs they chose, without surprise, were a Filipina woman and Philippine national sovereignty. The Arroyo administration collaborated with the spin doctors of the US government to concoct this scheme to protect the VFA by undoing the last four years of the Nicole rape case. It’s very disgusting.”
Beginning with the historic conviction of Smith in 2006, the convicted rapist, who was sentenced to life imprisonment, was whisked to the US Embassy to serve his sentence and not in a Philippine detention facility. This drew protests demanding the US government hand Smith over to Philippine jurisdiction. Both the US and Arroyo governments cited stipulations in the VFA protecting US military personnel in their defense of keeping Smith out of a Philippine jail. But a 2009 SC ruling to re-negotiate Smith’s detention from the US Embassy to a Philippine facility was met with refusal by US Embassy officials to follow. The blatant act of denial by the US government to hand over Smith to Philippine jurisdiction prompted several Philippine lawmakers in the Philippine Congress to introduce a bill calling for the termination of the military agreement. In the weeks following, a questionable affidavit was hastily filed by Nicole which served as basis for a so-called “recantation” of her original testimony. It was reported that Smith’s lawyers drafted the affidavit language and persuaded Nicole to sign it before Nicole took off for the United States. After the SC ruling to investigate the circumstances around the affidavit-signing, a Manila reporter leaked news of a draft acquittal for Smith by the Philippine Court of Appeals.
Earlier this year, US President Barack Obama paid Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo a phone call expressing support for continuing joint military exercises conducted between US and Philippine troops in the Philippines known as Balikatan, under the auspices of the VFA. This month, over 6000 US troops were deployed to the Philippine regions of Bicol, Central and Southern Luzon, and Zamboanga to conduct the said exercises. The estimated total expense for US militarization in the Philippines since the VFA was enacted has cost US taxpayers a lofty $1 billion; an additional $400 million is set to be spent over the next 10 years.
But Ellorin argued that the anti-VFA movement in the Philippines is larger than the Smith-Nicole gang-rape case of 2005-2006. It is about the context of historical unequal relations between the US and Philippines governments, one in which the US government “dictates and takes from the Philippines whatever it wants to serve its self-interest” while the Philippine government “obeys with complete subservience to the negligence of its own people.”
“The US-Arroyo government partnership in the Smith acquittal has made a mockery of the Philippines, as well as victims of all Filipinos and future generations of Filipinos,” Ellorin concluded. “But it will not stop the movement to abrogate the VFA. In fact, Filipinos all over the world, including the US, will be more compelled to terminate not only the VFA, but the Arroyo presidency, now more than ever.”
BAYAN USA, an alliance of 14 Filipino organizations in the United States, has been campaigning for the termination of the VFA and the withdrawal of US troops from the Philippines for four years. It even released an online petition calling for the abrogation of the VFA accessible at: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/JunkVFAnow. The signed petition will be presented by the alliance to US lawmakers and the Obama administration this year.