Fil-Ams protest VFA with actions in Los Angeles; don’t buy into Obama’s rhetoric of change when it comes to foreign policy

Contact: Rhonda Ramiro
Secretary-General, BAYAN USA
secgen@bayanusa.org

Los Angeles, CA — Filipino-Americans under the banners of two alliances — BAYAN USA and GABRIELA USA — staged two strong actions demonstrating deep opposition to the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), a military pact between the US and Philippine governments that allow for the temporary basing of US military personnel in over 20 ports throughout the Philippines. The actions, one in front of the Philippine Consulate along Wilshire Boulevard and the other in front of the General Douglas MacArthur Statue in MacArthur Park, began and ended a historic weekend as the two alliances held their respective congresses at the UCLA Downtown Labor Center from Friday till Sunday, March 27-29.

On Friday morning, approximately 50 Filipino-Americans stormed the Philippine Consulate at 10am to denounce the VFA. Holding giant colorful letters spelling “JUNK VFA,” protesters were seen by cars and pedestrians passing by, many honking to express support.

“Gusto lang namin ipaabot ng isang mensahe sa mga kababayan namin sa loob ng konsulado [Our wish is just to deliver a message to our compatriots inside the consulate] –  We reject the VFA!”, exclaimed outgoing-BAYAN USA Secretary-General Berna Ellorin from the bullhorn towards the entrance of the Philippine Consulate building. Meanwhile, Claudia Paras of Pinay sa Seattle, a member organization of GABRIELA USA, spoke of how the VFA poses  physical harm and human rights violations to Filipinos, especially women and children through sexual aggression of US military personnel. Despite harassment and pressure from the Consulate security forces to step away from the Consulate grounds, protesters managed to march into the Consulate courtyard and ended with a run around the Consulate building.

The 3rd BAYAN USA Congress and founding assembly of GABRIELA USA saw an election of new officers for the national alliances with the campaign for the abrogation of the VFA amongst their most immediate political demands for the next 2-3 years. Despite recent developments with the US President Barack Obama’s show of support for the VFA and Filipina rape victim Nicole’s so-called “recantation” of charges against US Lance Corporal Daniel Smith, Filipinos in the US are not fazed, but are in fact more convinced to debunk the illusion that the Obama administration will depart from the Bush administration’s foreign policy when it comes to war and US military deployment overseas. Obama recently played Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo a phone call expressing support for the continuation of the VFA through the deployment of over 6000 US troops to the Philippines this month.

After two successful back-to-back congresses that garnered nearly 200 participants from across the United States, the two alliances joined forces again on Sunday afternoon for an action at MacArthur Park in Downtown Los Angeles. Marching from the UCLA Downtown Labor Center, the colorful contingent featured brightly-colored flags and a “Sampayan Ng Bayan” or People’s Clothesline, that displayed t-shirts spray-painted with anti-VFA messages on them. In a dramatic show of protest, marchers culminated at the statue of General Douglas MacArthur overlooking the Philippines and draped the clothesline with the letters spelled “JUNK VFA” around its neck like a noose. MacArthur was the former Chief of Staff of the US Army stationed in the Philippine during World War II. His father, Arthur MacArthur, was an American military-governor of the Philippines during the US colonial period in the early 1900’s.

BAYAN USA newly-elected Chair Ellorin, along with GABRIELA USA founding Vice Chair Valerie Francisco and GABRIELA Philippines Secretary-General Emmi de Jesus, who traveled all the way from the Philippines, all spoke in front of the draped statue to a loud crowd of young and old protesters waving banners, placards and flags. BAYAN USA newly-elected Deputy Secretary-General Jack de Jesus, aka Kiwi, and Geologic of Blue Scholars offered performances along with El Dia of the Seattle hip-hop duo 1st Qtr Storm.

Los Angeles is home to the largest concentration of Filipinos in the United States. Both BAYAN USA and GABRIELA USA have long-criticized the costliness of the US military deployments and exercises in the Philippines in addition to over $30 million in US military aid to the Philippines at a time of severe economic downturn for working communities in the United States.

Both BAYAN USA and GABRIELA USA launched a petition site calling for the abrogation of the VFA that has already garnered over 1000 signatures worldwide athttp://www.ipetitions.com/petition/JunkVFAnow. The said petition is addressed to US President Barack Obama and will be presented to him by the alliances this year.

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