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Petition: End unequal relations between the Philippines and the US! Terminate VFA and surrender Smith now!

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To: President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Senator John Kerry (Chair, U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee), Representative Howard Berman (Chair, U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs), Representative Barbara Lee (U.S. House Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on Foreign Operations):

Last February 11, the Philippine Supreme Court declared illegal the U.S. embassy detention of convicted rapist Lance Corporal Daniel Smith, a member of the United States Marines. Smith was convicted by a Philippine court for raping a Filipina in 2006, yet despite his conviction he is serving his sentence inside an American facility instead of a Philippine jail. Such a situation has been viewed as gross disrespect for the sovereignty of the Philippines and the integrity of its courts. To justify the embassy detention, the U.S. government has invoked a provision in the so-called R.P.-U.S. Visiting Forces Agreement allowing the U.S. custody of erring American soldiers.

Had a Filipino committed a similar crime in the U.S., he would not be serving his sentence in the Philippine embassy. Smith’s current detention therefore underscores a fundamental inequality in the provisions of the VFA.

Nobody Wins with the VFA

This observation of one-sidedness is reinforced by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that says treaties entered into by the U.S. are not enforceable in the U.S. unless there is an implementing law or if the treaty is self-executing. The VFA, which was not even ratified as a treaty by the U.S. Senate, has neither an implementing law nor is self-executing. It is inequality, and an affront to sovereignty, when the VFA becomes enforceable in the Philippines but not in the U.S.

The Smith incident is just one of the many problems that have arisen from the VFA, a military pact that governs the entry and presence of American troops in Philippine territory. The VFA provides for, among others, the deployment and stationing of U.S. troops and the holding of joint military operations in the Philippines. Unknown to many, U.S. troops have been stationed in the Philippines since 2002 up to the present. The extent of U.S. deployment in the Philippines increased during George Bush’s discredited “war on terror.”

Combat and Rape Under the Guise of “Training”

The destructive and costly continuance of the joint military exercises between U.S. and Philippine troops under the VFA has resulted in the displacement of thousands of innocent Filipino men, women, and children. Preparations for Balikatan 2009, a joint activity that permits U.S. troops to train Filipino soldiers under Philippine territory, have put in peril the welfare of young children. During the “clearing operations” of the Philippine Military’s 901st Brigade in the Bicol region, a one-year-old child was senselessly killed, while six more children were injured.

The stated intent of the annual Balikatan exercises is to provide training to the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Yet such training becomes questionable given the fact the Philippine military has been consistently implicated by UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston in thousands of human rights violations since 2001, including torture, abductions, and extrajudicial killings.

Furthermore, eyewitness accounts suggest that U.S. military activity is not limited to “exercises,” but has included actual combat operations that are banned by the Philippine Constitution. These interventions are compounded by U.S. military personnel committing crimes during their “rest and recreation” time, including the gang rape of the Filipina woman “Nicole,” for which Smith was convicted in 2006.

Funding Human Rights Violations Instead of Saving Jobs and Homes in the U.S.

The holding of U.S. military exercises is tied with providing military aid to the Philippines, with an annual $30 million allotted by the U.S. Congress and hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars in other assistance. The accumulated U.S. military funding for the Philippines from 2001 to the present may have already reached $1 billion.

Such a practice, however, becomes unconscionable when U.S. funding is used by a regime that – to borrow words from President Barack Obama- “clings to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent.” A recent U.S. State Department report on the Philippines said that “arbitrary, unlawful, and extrajudicial killings by elements of the security services… continued to be major problems.”

The VFA, despite the military exercises and aid, provides absolutely no short-term nor long-term benefits to the people of either the U.S. or the Philippines. Filipino citizens have staged an escalating number of protests to voice their opposition to the Agreement and its violation of Philippine sovereignty. Several Philippine senators have also filed a resolution calling for its abrogation.

The Obama administration has vowed a departure from the Bush foreign policies. Terminating the VFA and removing U.S. troops from the Philippines would be a step in that direction.

We demand:

• That in the interest of justice, the U.S. government surrender custody of convicted rapist Daniel Smith to Philippine authorities

• That the U.S. government terminate the R.P.-U.S. Visiting Forces Agreement for being an unequal pact saddled with legal problems

• That the U.S. government recall the U.S. troops stationed in the Philippines and cease any further deployment under any pretext

• That the U.S. Congress terminate military aid to the Philippines and exclude the Philippines from any allocation of military aid in future years.

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