On Nov. 1, 2005, a woman was dumped semi-conscious and half-naked “like a pig” by a road in Subic City, former site of one of the two largest ever overseas bases of the US military. This had been a naval base, the other an air force base located in the city of Angeles, Pampanga. Over the years, both had become ringed by restaurants, massage parlors, nightclubs, brothels, drug dens – a virtual artificial habitat of crime and decadence, all so that those who had been dispossessed of their farm lands and fishing grounds could survive their dispossession. Through the years, an estimated half-million women were chewed up by the sex trade mill serving the two US military bases and a hundred thousand children, hapas, were born without fathers.
Practically on the same day of Nov. 1, 2005, at 9 o’clock in the morning, women of GABRIELA Network took to the street in front of the Philippine Consulate in Los Angeles demanding justice for Nicole, the 22-year-old dumped “like a pig” by the roadside, demanding that the US soldiers be apprehended and tried for this violence against a woman, a city, a nation. The picketing was colorful, impassioned and yes, emotional as only women's political language can be.
Irony was redolent in the air. It had taken almost a hundred years and the combined might of activists and Apo Pinatubo to remove the two monkeys off the backs of the residents. But the Philippine government, true to its colors, did not dismantle those bases of iniquity and destruction, did not return the farmlands or the fishing grounds to their rightful owners. Instead, the bases were handed over to the Philippine military, which, in defiance of the Constitution, proceeded to host returning US troops in ever increasing numbers at the same sites. And now, we had Nicole.
To those with long memories, the stories of the residents’ humiliation still rankle. How the indigenous people were driven by the loss of their ancestral lands to scrounge at the base’s garbage dump for food and scraps. How occasionally, a boy would be shot by a US soldier who “mistook” him for a wild boar. How bullets from the firing ranges would hit houses. How fishermen were poisoned by some green glowing slick on the waters in the wake of nuclear submarines. How a 14-year-old girl died when the vibrator pushed up her by a GI broke and left a piece in her vaginal canal. How the clinics funded by the US AID would check prostitutes for disease, but not the GIs; would dispense antibiotics but not condoms or birth control pills, for “fear of angering the Church.”
No US soldier was ever prosecuted for crimes committed against a Filipino. In 2,000 cases, no one was ever tried much less convicted. Victims and witnesses alike were intimidated and bought off, once with a sack of rice and canned sardines. Culprits were “re-deployed” and evaded Philippine jurisdiction.
It took a woman to bring all that subservience to a halt. Nicole, whose father worked with US soldiers and who was therefore herself so trusting of Americans, began her fight on the very day of her rape and never let go. Emotional all the way, weeping and raging, once hitting one of the soldiers with her purse inside the courtroom, Nicole made sure that the violence inflicted upon her by foreigners remained constantly before the public eye.
It takes a woman to render instantly palpable the true nature of Philippine-US relations, and the true oppressive character of the Visiting Forces Agreement between the Philippines and the United States. One has been a medium for violence; the other, an instrument for the perpetration of violence.
And it took women to create the pressure that enabled the court to withstand the puppetry of the Philippine Department of Justice itself, with its psychotically rampaging Secretary of (In)Justice. It took the women of GABRIELA Philippines and all its sister organizations the world over; it took Congresswoman Liza Maza and the Gabriela Women’s Party; it took women from the entire political spectrum to create the thunderous voice that said, ‘NO MORE! NOT AGAIN! NOT EVER AGAIN!” For over a year, raging in their disquiet, they watched with due vigilance over this case and responded with militant action time and time again.
How nice to hear the verdict “guilty” for at least one of the accused, even though the other three were acquitted. So, though the fight is only half-way done, here’s the warmest hug possible to Nicole, the women of the Philippines and their allies. Onward to the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement – a nine-page treaty, in contrast to the nearly 40 page agreement governing the presence of US bases in Germany and Japan, with intricate provisions for the protection of the community, rather than of foreign troops. The VFA is a treaty so unjust in its treatment of Filipinos, it will go down in history as a document of infamy.
What fine daughters of Gabriela Silang they all are, from Nicole down to the 18-year-old still wearing her St. Scholastica Catholic school uniform as she picketed in front of the courthouse. They make us proud to be women. and to be women of Philippine ancestry. Sulong, GABRIELA, laban, MAKIBAKA!