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  • Women's Rights groups urge the philippines to rethink guam military buildup bid

By Ellen-Rae Cachola and Terry Bautista

March 1, 2010

In his statement to the press, Mayor James Gordon Jr. spoke with nostalgia about U.S. military presence in Olongapo and across the Philippines. He said that for Olongapo, the Guam military buildup represents the “third wave of progress," and that "first, when the Americans built their bases here, Olongapo became a city. Second, when they left, we were able to convert their facilities into a free port zone. Now, we are going to supply most of their skilled labor."

But these waves of "progress" have had troubling consequences on the health, environment and safety of communities surrounding U.S. bases, like Olongapo. Women's organizations in the Philippines have first hand accounts on the adverse affects of US bases in Olongapo and Subic. U.S. bases have led to a rise in sex trafficking, prostitution, and violence against women and children. Women who have worked in the industry say that catering to the bases and "Rest and Recreation" of soldiers were the available jobs. Effects of these industries were sexual exploitation, sexually transmitted diseases and reproductive health issues. Many Amerasian children have not been recognized nor received assistance from their soldier fathers. Also, these bases have left behind toxic pollution that raised serious concerns for long-term environmental and public health. Grassroots groups in the Philippines, including Metro Subic Network and BUKLOD, have worked to address these issues and push for responsibility. But today, the Philippines is tied to U.S. military aid because of treaties like the Visiting Forces Agreement. Now, this third wave of "progress" will heavily impact Guam, a Pacific Island neighbor to the Philippines.

Filipinos and Guam share histories of colonialism under Spain, Japan and the U.S. Both countries have been used for geopolitical strategy, wars, market expansionism, and natural resource extraction. Residents in both countries were recruited into the U.S. military for economic purposes. As Filipinas living in the U.S., we are products of Filipino military servicemen, and workers who were able to gain U.S. citizenship through their labor. Many times, immigrants and refugees come to the U.S., open businesses in poor neighborhoods, and alienate those already residing in these more depressed sections of urban areas. The Philippine nation has incurred so much debt from the World Bank and other development loans, that the pressure to achieve economic independence has been delegated to its individual citizens. What is happening in Guam is like a "frontier" in which previously colonized peoples are able to act as settlers, to participate in the profits of modern development. However, blind complicity to this will silence how people in the Philippines and Guam are actively seeking alternatives to U.S. military and corporate development.

In September 2009, the 7th International Women's Network Against Militarism (IWNAM) met in Guam, convening women leaders from communities in Australia, Belau, Chuuk, Hawai’i, Japan, Okinawa, Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, South Korea and mainland United States to discuss and strategize about the U.S. historic and impending military build up in their countries. The military build up in Guam is to relocate a Naval Base from Okinawa. Lisa Linda Natividad, PhD, says that the history of U.S. military development in Guam has furthered “dispossession of [CHamoru] people from ancestral lands, alarming rates of diseases, environmental contamination and degradation, a segregated school system, suppression of traditional methods in fishing and hunting, and the ongoing deferment of the CHamoru right to self-determination as defined by the United Nations.” People in Guam are now demanding a stop to the military build up because of the ecological, health, cultural and moral impacts that base expansion would have upon an already fragile island ecosystem. The island is only 30 miles long and approximately 5 miles wide. According to Olongapo Mayor James Gordon Jr., about 20,000 workers are needed to build the naval base for 14,200 Marines and their dependents. "Genuine security does not come from military security," says Sabina Perez of Chamoru organization Famoksaiyan; "it comes from healing and nurturing our communities."

The Philippines bid to aid the US military buildup of Guam, without reconsidering its negative impacts, turns a blind eye to the history and present day impacts of U.S. military bases in the Philippines. Governments in U.S., Guam and Philippines should support new ways to forge economic development that is not based on exploitation or perpetuating wars. Citizens in these countries are already thinking of alternatives. It is up to governments and leaders in the community to be accountable to their citizenry.

For more info: Visit Women for Genuine Security, http://www.genuinesecurity.org


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