by Hiyasmin Quijano
Pinoy Weekly / BASICS Community News Service
June 5, 2012
Los Angeles, California – “Do you have any comment on the US Marine Times Publication that called the Philippines, ‘A raunchy party atmosphere where alcohol and scantily clad women have attracted marines and sailors over the years.’” This was the question posed by ILPS –US Co-Coordinator Kuusela Hilo to Harry K. Thomas Jr., the US Ambassador to the Philippines, at a ‘US Pinoys for Good Governance’ event at CBS Studios in Los Angeles last May 10. The Ambassador stated his reason for his trip to Los Angeles is to talk about treaties, but didn’t go into further detail.
The Ambassador was caught off guard and visibly upset by the question. He raised his voice while stating: “What is this? I never heard of this. I am very sorry, I am shocked. I have never heard of that. This was not in the news in the Philippines. Maybe somebody let something loose,” denying knowledge about the existence of the article while demanding to see it. Kuusela responded, “That’s why we’re asking you. Article aside, we know that Filipina women and children are vulnerable and their rights are violated when US troops are present.”
Hilo also asked the ambassador: “Would you do something about Spratly Island and China?” Currently, unlike the US, China’s military is not on Philippine land with a Visiting Forces Agreement. China is no where close to the amount US gives for military support. The ambassador responded: “We don’t support conflict of any size. It’s against our treaties to take sides. We should be living in peace. We work closely with the AFP of the Philippines. Tawi-Tawi, Jolo and Sulu are dangerous areas. That’s why we prioritize 60% of human investment in Mindanao.” On questions on the US military presence in the Philippines the Ambassador also stated, “Our presence is focused on economic and trade development.”
According to its online website, Marine Corps Times claims to be an independent source for information on news affecting the Marines, and provides “quality, unbiased reporting on the important issues for the military community.” However, the exploitation of Filipinas by the Marines have largely been left unreported.
After answering about the Spratly Islands and China, the Ambassador added to the US Marine Times Publication comment on Filipina women, “Let me be clear. We have tremendous respect for women and children. We do teach all of our folks to act in a ‘respectful manner.’ [Now there are always occasions where somebody will not] and that person should be dealt with. Well those people have rights also, so you have to go through due process and so you just can’t say because you heard something somebody has to go out. You have to have the facts of the situation.”
But in 2005, U.S. Marine Lance Corporal Daniel Smith was convicted by Philippine courts for raping a Filipina named Nicole. Smith served no time because of the U.S. intervention.. Those are the facts of that situation. No justice was served for Nicole
According to Human Rights Watch 2012 World Report on the Philippines: “The United States is the Philippines’s most influential ally and, together with Australia and Japan, among the country’s largest bilateral donors. The US military has access to Philippine territory and seas under a Visiting Forces Agreement, and the two militaries hold annual joint exercises. In fiscal year 2011-2012 the US government appropriated $12 million to the Philippines under Foreign Military Financing for procurement of US military equipment, services, and training. Of this sum, $3 million is contingent upon the Philippine government showing progress in addressing human rights violations, including ending extrajudicial killings. US Ambassador Harry Thomas, Jr. has publicly called on the Philippine government to do more to end impunity for extrajudicial killings.”
Filipina-American Melissa Roxas is yet another example of impunity in the Philippines. Roxas was the victim of state-sponsored abduction and torture in the Philippines in May 2009. Roxas was part of a recent delegation to the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on the Philippines at the UN Human Rights Council on May 29. Roxas told the Human Right Council,“The most painful thing right now is not recounting our experiences but knowing that there is still no justice after all this time. Victims live with the pain of injustice every day.”
According to the Philippine UPR Watch delegation in Geneva: “The [Government of the Philippines] report failed to mention that state authorities have yet to arrest several notorious human rights violators such as Maj. General Jovito Palparan, while there is much gloating on the enactment of few local legislation and ratifications of some international instruments.”
Jovito Palparan, is a retired Major General who is wanted in connection with the disappearance of two University of the Philippines coeds in 2006 and who has a P500,000 bounty on his head. According to Human Rights Watch, Palparan’s former army colleagues and business associates have been protecting him.
Cristina Palabay, spokesperson of the human rights organization Karapatan in the Philippines and member of the Philippine UPR Watch delegation in Geneva commented on the case: “Palparan’s continued evasion of arrest and mockery of justice exemplifies the prevalent climate of impunity. This is probably the reason why the [Government of the Philippines]failed to mention this important fact — to gloss over the non-existence of justice for victims of human rights violations in the country and the continuing spate of rights abuses,”
The struggle for justice is made impossible when men like Smith is given an intervention to flee the country after being found guilty in Philippine courts. The struggle for peace is made impossible when Philippine authorities fail to bring to justice major human rights violators such as Palparan. The injustice and lack of accountability for the abduction and torture of the Filipina-American Melissa Roxas sends a message that serious human rights violations remain disregarded. In 2009, the Philippine government passed a law against torture. Yet no one has been convicted under this statute. Not even American citizenship is a safeguard against the human rights violations in the Philippines.