The VFA-Balikatan Mess


Vanessa and Gadian provide two more reasons why the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) should be abrogated and the Balikatan joint US-Philippine military exercises stopped.

Vanessa is a 22-year-old student who recently came out in a press conference with the women's group GABRIELA and Evalyn Ursua, former counsel of Subic rape victim Nicole, accusing a US soldier participating in the Balikatan US-RP joint military exercises of raping her inside a Makati city hotel last April 19. The news of another rape case involving a US soldier reopened a fresh wound, which had barely healed. The Filipino people have barely gotten over the shock of seeing Lance Corporal Daniel Smith walk away from prison and fly out of the country after being suddenly acquitted by the Court of Appeals last April 23 when another rape case perpetrated by a US soldier participating in military exercises happens.

What is more saddening is the fact that Vanessa has no intention of filing a case citing what happened to the Subic rape case as one of the reasons. Who would blame her?

All throughout the trial and detention of Smith, not only did the Arroyo government abandon Nicole, it even worked for the interest of Smith. It could be remembered that less than a month had passed after Smith was convicted by a Makati court in early December 2006 and detained at the Makati City Jail premises when the Arroyo government conspired with US embassy officials in spiriting him out of jail and transferred him to the US embassy compound on December 29. When the Supreme Court issued a decision on February 11, 2009 ordering the transfer of Smith to Philippine custody, the Arroyo government immediately declared that the negotiations for the transfer would be long and tedious. Justice Sec. Raul Gonzalez even offered a way out for Smith by opining that the High Court decision was vague and could allow for Smith's detention in a Philippine embassy compound in the US. The Arroyo government again conspired with US embassy officials and Smith's counsels in having Nicole issue an affidavit raising doubts that the rape actually transpired, thereby paving the way for Smith's acquittal by the Court of Appeals last April 23. Of course the Arroyo government and the US embassy denied they had anything to do with the affidavit; but how could they not know and why did they keep it a secret when Nicole flew to the US before the issuance of Nicole's affidavit was announced?

Now, it did not come as a surprise that Malacañang reaction, instead of rushing to the aid of Vanessa, demanded that she shows proof of being raped.

How many more Vanessas and Nicoles would fall prey to the lechery and violence of US troops participating in military exercises in the country? How many more Filipino women would the government offer to its US masters?

Navy Lt. Senior Grade Nancy Gadian who headed civil military operations in Zamboanga del Sur in 2007 revealed that Lt. Gen. Eugenio Cedo, former chief of the Western Mindanao Command and other military officials benefited from the P46 million ($996,792 at the 2007 average exchange rate of $1=P46.148) fund for the 2007 Balikatan exercises. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the VFA commission reacted immediately. The AFP said it is Gadian who is under investigation for her alleged failure to account for P2.3 million ($49,839) released to her office for activities related to the Balikatan exercises. The Philippine Navy said it would take Gadian into custody. On the other hand, the VFA commission said that the US need not worry as it is the AFP's budget that is being used by Philippine troops.

Whether Gadian is telling the truth or is merely turning the tables on the AFP because she herself is under investigation, as Navy officials claimed, and whether the funds being siphoned came from the US or the AFP are beside the point. The issue is that the Balikatan exercises are being used as a source of corruption.

The rape attacks on Vanessa, and Nicole, show how the Balikatan exercises make Filipino women more vulnerable to rape and violence. The expose' of Gadian shows how the Balikatan exercises have become another source of corruption. These add to the list of reasons why the VFA should be abrogated and the Balikatan joint military exercises be stopped.

Progressive organizations have been demanding for the junking of the VFA and the Balikatan exercises because these constitute a violation of the country's sovereignty, and have provided conditions for direct US military intervention in the country. It is not a mere coincidence that the Balikatan exercises have been held in insurgency "hot spot" areas. It is also not surprising that US troops have always found a way of being near the vicinity of battles although the US embassy denies that US troops participate in combat operations saying that they 'merely' provide intelligence support, which of course is essential to military operations. Added to these, through the VFA and the Balikatan exercises, as well as other military-related agreements between the Philippines and the US such as the Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA) and the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), the country is being used to project US military hegemony and as launching pad for its wars of aggression in the region.

It has been ten years since the VFA was signed. It is time we say, "Enough to the continuous presence of US military troops in the country!" It is time to abrogate the VFA, as well as the MLSA, MDT, and other agreements, and to put a stop to these so-called joint military exercises. (


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