For Peace and Justice, it’s Time to End the Visiting Forces Agreement

Click HERE to add your name to the list of signers of the following Open Letter

An Open Letter to President Benigno Simeon Aquino III
and President Barack Obama

initiated by the
International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines – USA

We, the undersigned, as international advocates for peace, justice, democracy, and human rights, condemn the tragic murder of Filipina transwoman Jennifer Laude in Olongapo City on October 11, 2014. US Marine Private Joseph Scott Pemberton, the prime suspect in the case and the last to be seen with Jennifer, remains in the custody of the US military.

We recognize Jennifer’s murder as a hate crime, and we stand with Jennifer’s family in seeking justice. We also join the growing clamor to transfer Pemberton over to the Philippine authorities and face trial in a Philippine court.

Jennifer is not the first victim of a crime allegedly committed by a US military serviceman, and we fear she will not be the last. There is a long history of crimes committed by US military personnel against Filipino civilians. The vast majority of these offenses have remained unresolved, the perpetrators have escaped punishment, and the victims have never received justice.

At the very core of this injustice are the fundamentally unequal military agreements governing relations between the U.S. and the Philippines. Since its enactment in 1999, the Visiting Forces Agreement has served as the foundation for crimes to be committed with impunity by the U.S. military. The Visiting Forces Agreement has shielded the suspects in the U.S. military from facing Philippine authorities, obstructing the justice still being painfully sought by the family of Jennifer Laude and many other families of Filipino victims.

While we support efforts to change provisions in the VFA allowing for Philippine jurisdiction over criminal cases involving U.S. military personnel, we believe the very existence of the VFA and the recently-signed Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) underlie the culture of unequal power relations between the U.S. and the Philippines, and by extension, between U.S. servicemen and the Filipino people. Sadly, we have seen how this culture emboldens U.S. military personnel in the Philippines to commit violent acts against Filipino civilians, including rape and murder, because they can literally “get away with it” under the VFA.

The VFA and EDCA also disregard provisions in the Philippine Constitution that prohibit the presence of foreign military troops on Philippine soil. There are several legislative resolutions that have been filed in the Philippine Congress throughout the years citing the VFA as “unconstitutional” and an “affront to Philippine sovereignty.”

We support efforts in the Philippine legislature to abrogate the Visiting Forces Agreement. We call on the US government to do the same.

Peace and justice for Jennifer and the Filipino nation cannot be realized under a framework of unequal power relations between the United States and the Philippines. It can only be genuinely realized under a framework of mutual respect, mutual benefit, non-interference, and respect for national sovereignty.

For peace and justice, we therefore call for the following:

1. The abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement
2. The termination of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement
3. The immediate transfer of US Marine Private Joseph Pemberton to Philippine authorities without US military protection

Signed: (Initiating Signers, 11/10/2014)
Noam Chomsky
Institute Professor and Professor of Linguistics
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Cynthia McKinney
Former US Congresswoman
2008 Green Party Presidential Nominee

Ramsey Clark
Former U.S. Attorney General

Medea Benjamin
Co-Founder, CODEPINK for Peace

Kathleen Cleaver
Emory University of Law

Rev. Dr. Susan Henry-Crowe
General Secretary, General Board of Church and Society
The United Methodist Church

Mark W. Harrison
Director of Peace with Justice Program, General Board of Church and Society
The United Methodist Church

Iraq Veterans Against War

International Action Center

National Lawyers Guild, International Committee

National Alliance for Filipino Concerns

United National Anti-War Coalition

Women for Genuine Security

Veterans for Peace, Chapter 69
San Francisco

BAYAN-USA

Brown Boi Project
San Francisco Bay Area

Code Pink
Washington DC

Center for Political Education
San Francisco

El/La para TransLatinas
San Francisco Bay Area

Haiti Action Committee
San Francisco Bay Area

HOBAK-Hella Organized Bay Area Koreans
San Francisco Bay Area

Migrante Northern San Mateo County
San Mateo

San Jose Peace and Justice Center

Skyline College Filipino Student Union
San Mateo

Kali Akuno
Malcolm X Grassroots Movement

Adrianne Aron, PhD
Liberation Psychologist

Toby Blomé
Bay Area Code Pink

Margaret Dominado
Lucy Parsons Gonzales Institute

Liza Marie S. Erpelo
Professor and Coordinator
Kababayan Learning Community at Skyline College

Rev. Dr. Mary Susan Gast
Chair
National Ecumenical Forum for Filipino Concerns – Northern California

Margaret Kimberley
Senior Columnist and Editor
Black Agenda Report

Richard Hobbs
Human Agenda

Linda McGloin
Ecumenical Advocacy Network – Philippines

Tim McGloin
Ecumenical Advocacy Network – Philippines

Steve Morse
Member, Veterans for Peace Chapter 69 – San Francisco
Veteran of the American war in Viet-Nam

Nate Nevado
General Counselor, CIPHER Learning Community Coordinator, Rock The School Bells Coordinator
CIPHER Hip Hop Learning Community

Cathe Norman
Member
Veterans for Peace, East Bay Chapter 162

Fred Norman
Member
Veterans for Peace, East Bay Chapter 162 USMC/USAF

Dante Simbulan
Katarungan

Michael Yoshii
Pastor
Buena Vista United Methodist Church

International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines. The ICHRP is a global network of organizations based outside of the Philippines, committed to campaigning for human rights and Filipino people's rights.