WASHINGTON D.C. - Militant Fil-Ams brought their clamor for scrapping the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) to the Pentagon, joining thousands of anti-war protesters marking the 6th anniversary of the US war in Iraq last Saturday.
“We’re here to denounce the continued occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, and the US support for Israel against Palestine,” said Chevy Evangelista of Alliance Philippines.
“But most of all,” he added, “we’re here to oppose the Visiting Forces Agreement in the Philippines that is a source of attacks on the people of Mindanao.”
“We want the VFA scrapped. No US troops in the Philippines, they have no business there,” Evangelista told ABS-CBN’s Balitang America.
It was no surprise his message resonated with Americans gathered for the large anti-war rally, the biggest yet since President Obama was swept to power, partly on a platform of ending the US war in Iraq.
Organizers put their numbers at 10,000 but police pegged the crowd at a lower 3,000.
The police also came in full force, blocking freeway exits and roads around the Pentagon. Backed by fire trucks and a Huey helicopter that circled continuously above the marchers, the policemen were in full anti-riot regalia.
But this didn’t stop some demonstrators from taunting the cops.
Some rode on motorcycles and squad cars, others on horses. Using binoculars, some officers took vantage positions on rooftops of office buildings, keeping a wary eye on the protesters.
The police also threw a protective ring around the offices of big US firms like Boeing, SAIC and KBR that have huge contracts with the Pentagon.
Demonstrators accused them of supporting US wars abroad.
The day’s protest action started with speeches near the Lincoln Memorial. Evangelista, who together with other Filipino protesters, came all the way from New York, was among the speakers at the makeshift stage.
“It’s very important to be here because Filipinos are affected by the US war in Iraq, especially our migrant workers in the Middle East,” Mona Lunot of the Damayan Migrant Workers told Balitang America.
“The US economic crisis is rooted in the unbridled spending for America’s wars around the world,” she averred.
Lunot blames the war for the loss of jobs as America’s recession adversely affects the rest of the world.
She asserts that the US has used the global war on terror as a pretext for posting troops in “frontline” countries, including the Philippines.
VFA tied to ‘Nicole’ saga
“American soldiers are going to the Philippines, for what? Para magkalat ng lagim?” she asked.
The VFA sets the rules of engagement and conduct for US troops posted in the Philippines. The RP-US Mutual Defense Treaty calls on the American military to come to the Philippine’s aid if it is attacked by another country, and lays the basis for annual joint training exercises.
But the accord has come under steady attack from militants back home, especially in the wake of the “Nicole” saga.
US marines Lance Corporal Daniel Smith was convicted of raping ‘Nicole’ inside the former US Navy base in Subic, Zambales.
Smith’s trial and conviction were all covered under the VFA. Invoking the agreement, however, the Philippines was only able to take brief custody of the accused before he was whisked off in the middle of the night to the US embassy in Manila.
Even after he was convicted, Smith remained in US hands.
Earlier this month, Nicole signed a new affidavit that cast doubt on her own testimony of rape. The assertion was made public by Smith’s Filipino lawyers. Before that, news leaked that ‘Nicole’ was now living somewhere in the US.
“She was pressured by both governments to withdraw her case even though in 2006 Daniel Smith was convicted because of the evidence,” declared Catherine Judge, GABRIELA Network coordinator for New York-New Jersey.
“Some people may see this as intimidation of a powerless woman because of the lack of justice in the Philippines and US,” Lunot declared.
“Some foreigners may also now see Filipinas in a bad light, as someone who can be paid off,” she said, adding, “it all depends on who is looking.”
Judge said all future military pacts by the Philippines should have clear guarantees against abuses.
“We demand clauses in all military agreements to protect women against violence from the military,” she stressed.
As the protesters snaked through DC’s streets and across the Memorial Bridge to Arlington, Virginia, they carried symbolic coffins, including one that bore the Philippine flag.
They stood for the human cost of America’s wars, waged in the name of global security.
“We don’t need them there. We can protect ourselves, we don’t have to depend on America,” Lunot declared.