US Policy and Militarization in Asia:
Impacts on People’s Lives1
By Jean Enriquez
Just a week ago, I was in Seoul together with 100 other women from various Asian countries where there is US military presence. At the gathering, too, were peace activists from the Unites States and Puerto Rico. The meeting was of the East Asia-US-Puerto Rico Women’s Network Against Militarism.
The international women’s meeting took place in the midst of public uproar over the deaths of two young girls killed by a U.S. Army military tank in Hyochonli, Yangju county, Gyeonggi Province in Korea. According to the anti-militarism network, “Their deaths continue to represent the human cost of the unfolding War on Terrorism led by the U.S. government. This increased militarism in response to the attacks on September 11, 2001, represents a heightened state of violence against women, children, and our communities, that is rooted in U.S. economic and military dominance around the world.”
“The U.S. government has coerced other nations into adopting policies and laws that have created fear, insecurity, violence, and repression in South Korea, Vieques, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Okinawa, Japan, and also in the United States. The U.S. Patriot and Homeland Securities Act and the Military Emergency Bill in Japan gives the U.S. government and the nations pressured to comply with its military policies, carte blanche, to take away civil liberties, violate human rights, ignore existing laws, and mask its economic interests as “national security”. These new policies also perpetuate inequalities based on race, class, gender, and nation, and deny basic rights for immigrants and poor people.”
“Pending bilateral agreements such as the Mutual Logistics and Support Agreement (MLSA) in the Philippines compound the negative effects of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) by giving the U.S. military unhampered access to areas in the Philippines. We oppose these agreements that use the military as an excuse to push for expanding U.S. global economic and military influence, increasing global inequality, and the denial of democratic processes and self-determination for our communities and nations.”
“As women, we fully recognize that the militarization created by the relationships between the global economy, U.S. military, and complicit nations is reflected in the past and current patterns of violence against women, children, and the environment. Our lives are fundamentally interconnected across national boundaries through the ways in which our communities are negatively affected by U.S. militarist policies and programs. We recognize our collective responsibility to oppose the practices and policies of our respective governments in supporting U.S. President Bush’s policy of war and to support women and women’s leadership in voicing our opposition and envisioning true security.”
“Women continue the struggle for reparations for past military crimes against women such as those women who were victimized by the Japanese military in sexual slavery during World War II, and the massacre of whole communities in the Philippines, Vietnam and Korean Wars and the Battle of Okinawa. We claim our histories and past memories and denounce the devastation the U.S. military has caused in our lives, our communities and our environment, despite hypocritical policies such as Good Neighbor Policies that try to cover up the real nature of military operations and current expansion. We as women carry the scars of militarism’s injustices and atrocities and we keep firm our vision for true security that guarantees the safety, well-being and long-term sustainability of our communities.”
At the meeting, we affirm an integrated challenge and critique of neoliberal globalization and militarism. Okazawa-Rey and Kirk quoted Steven Staples in arguing that globalization and militarism are two sides of the same coin.
On one side, globalization promotes the conditions that lead to unrest, inequality, conflict, and ultimately war. On the other side, globalization fuels the means to wage war by protecting and promoting the military industries needed to produce sophisticated weaponry. This weaponry, in turn, is used or threatened to be used to protect the investments of transnational corporations and their shareholders.
And William Cohen, then US Secretary of Defense, addressing CEOs of major US corporations in October 1998, expressed the relationship between economic investment and military activity in the most basic terms:
Business follows the flag… We provide the kind of security and stability. You provide the kind of profits that guarantee investment and profit for the local communities who in turn will buy our products… We need to continue to have this relationship where we provide the security and you provide the investment.
Corporations need the assurance of political stability and protection of their investments. As part of the nation-state apparatus, the military is on hand whenever necessary to intimidate and repress popular resistance to exploitative working conditions, to structural adjustment programs, or to the privatization of public utilities.
Military budgets, bases, and operations have negative effects on communities in many parts of the world, as well as in the United States. Military spending has been increased while socially-useful spending has been cut. This disinvestment disproportionately affects poor communities, women and children included. Let me mention here the cut on state support to reproductive health, following rightist, conservative policies on women’s health and reproductive rights. This is now replicated by our own government, which refused to release state subsidy for contraceptives, portending health problems and even deaths among our women.
Anti-Terrorism within the US Borders
Okazawa-Rey and Kirk commented that the complete human, environmental, and financial costs of the war against Afghanistan will not be known for some time. Early estimates of the monetary cost range from $1 billion per month (War Resisters League 2002). President Bush and the US Congress authorized $29 billion in fiscal Year 2002 emergency money to pay for the war, and Bush wants to spend another $10 billion.
Further costs of the war on terrorism are lost civil liberties in the United States and around the world. US spending on homeland security is estimated at about $38 billion. This includes airport security, increased budget for CIA and FBI, increased monitoring of communications, and arrests of people suspected of terrorism. The USA Patriot Act, which became law on October 26, 2002, greatly increases the government’s powers. Among its most troubling provisions, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (2002) are measures that:
|terrorist organizations and deport any non-citizens who belong to them.|
In the highly patriotic atmosphere following 9-11, many were reluctant to criticize US military policy. Several university professors were censured for speaking out against the “war on terrorism” or for participating in educational programs that criticized the government. A student at Bell High School in Southeast Los Angeles reported: “since 9-11, if we don’t agree with Bush and question him publicly at my school or refuse to pledge allegiance, we get sent to the administration and are threatened with suspension” (Sanches, 2002). Under the banner of patriotism, young people decided to enlist in the military and parents were encouraged to support them. The Bush administration called on the Hollywood film industry to make more pro-war movies. Walt Disney corporation distributed a State Department ad nationwide, “Can you trust your neighbor?,” that urged people to support any “suspicious” activity to the police.
The earlier Pentagon strategy of preparing to fight on two fronts at the same time has shifted, as the US, the sole superpower, now prepares to counter any supposed threat to US dominance anywhere in the world. As part of this strategy, the US is now providing weapons and military training to many countries, including some with the world’s worst human rights records. Over 150 institutions in the US and abroad are involved in training about 100,000 foreign troops each year.
SouthEast Asia as the Second Front of the War, after Afghanistan
These are interesting times in the region. A month ago, Southeast Asian officials met and finalized an anti-terrorism treaty with the US, where the latter insisted on dropping the provision on “sovereignty.” It insisted that the SEA nations should not inhibit the possible use of its military forces in the region and drop a reference about respect for “the principles of sovereign equality, territorial integrity and … nonintervention in the domestic affairs of other states.” Said guarantee provision was in fact sought by Indonesia and Vietnam, which expressed fears that the terrorism accord could lead to the basing of US ground troops in the region.
The ASEAN forum was further transformed into an effective security grouping. It was a precursor to Powell’s meeting with ASEAN foreign ministers the following week. As echoed by the media, Southeast Asia has become a second front in the war on terrorism, with US troops helping fight Abu Sayyaf bandits in the Philippines, and Malaysia and Singapore arresting scores of alleged al-Qaeda-linked extremists accused of plotting bomb attacks.
Anti-Terrorism in the Philippines
I was bruised at a rally at the US Embassy a few weeks ago, together with other leaders protesting the visit of US State Secretary Colin Powell. Our own President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA) declared that “there will be no maximum tolerance” of rallies, so as not to embarrass Powell. It portended violence. Indeed, the police did not entertain any negotiation with the protesters. I was in the negotiating panel, and I was pushed forcefully along with the others. Three of us came out of the rally black and blue.
Powell came to the Philippines, on a regional tour to ensure the support of Asian countries to the US anti-terror campaign. More recently, the US dangled its military aid in exchange for governments’ bypassing the ICC ratification. Our shameless President stands by the lie that the Abu Sayyaf is a bigger threat than US intervention itself, and that the huge balance-of-payment deficit will be resolved by the aid, rather than by cutting debt service.
Thus, GMA has been quick as to prepare for Powell’s visit, urging the Philippine Congress to pass the anti-terrorism bill. Allegedly directed towards criminals, smugglers and terrorists, GMA’s directive was followed by a warning against human rights groups not to hold rallies, and in the same breath, issuing an accusation to the groups as terrorists hiding behind human rights advocacy.
This is what we anticipated. Not only does the international anti-terrorist campaign label people from the South as terrorists, but there is a local translation of this war that all political dissenters and stereotyped groups are similarly targeted. The unilateral war of George W. Bush, Jr. endangers the lives of Moslem populations, peoples struggling for autonomy and self-determination, women and children. The end point is hegemony. The bottomline is “peace and order” to ensure that geo-political and economic interests of the US are insured. Locally, anti-terrorism means scaring off and suppressing activists to allow neo-liberal policies to take off unhampered — liberalization of capital and trade, deregulation of markets and privatization of public utilities. Surprisingly or not, both the opposition and administration parties filed the “Anti-Terrorism Bill” in the Philippine Senate. Not surprisingly, Rep. Imee Marcos, daughter of the deposed dictator, filed the bill at the Lower House.
Again, two weeks before Powell’s visit, the US envoy to the Philippines was quite direct as to say that the Philippine Constitution provides barriers to foreign investments. Our Constitution sets foreign equity limits of 40 percent on certain economic activities. The US interest has always been clear.
Concurrently, the Mutual Logistics Support Agreement was being negotiated. Far from being mutual, the MLSA is but the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) which was floated in 1994, which seeks to allow refueling and other logistical services to be provided to US military forces. In Part III of the MLSA, the agreement’s applicability covers “unforeseen circumstances or exigencies, …in which one of the parties may have a need of logistical support, supplies, services…” Again, questions are being raised as to what might constitute such exigencies. Or what comprises national emergency.
The Balikatan 02-1 ended a few weeks ago, but new deployments will begin in October this year. This is a nine-month program including night navigation, training of at least two companies or anti-terrorism units and eight army battalions, and intelligence cooperation, according to Philippine Armed Forces Chief of Staff.
While the anti-terrorism bill and the bilateral agreements are being processed, our President continues to name activist groups as communists and has declared war against rebel groups.
Prostitution and Trafficking
It was in 1998 when the Philippine Senate passed the VFA (Visiting Forces Agreement) despite the resistance of cause oriented groups in the Philippines, particularly women’s groups. In the end, what mattered to the government were the interests of investors and the United States, instead of the long-term interests of the poor majority in the Philippines and our national sovereignty.
The VFA mandated the Philippines to play host to American troops during military exercises. It opened 22 ports of the country to military training as well as “rest and recreation” (R&R) for American servicemen. It was in 1999 when businessmen started renovating their videoke bars, restaurants and clubs. This exposed the women, once again to prostitution.
Grouped in 10s to 15s, most of the American soldiers are going to the bars and karaoke clubs at the time of their R & R in Subic, Freeport, Barrio Baretto and Olongapo Proper. They had to get the women early because they should go back to their ships by 12 midnight.
While prostitution is supposed to be illegal in the Philippines, this is reinforced by the conduct of the Balikatan. When the Balikatan exercises started, most of the women prostituted were of a lower age bracket, 16-22. They came from the different parts of the Philippines, not only Olongapo City, but from the nearby provinces of Zambales and Pangasinan, as well as the far-flung areas of Samar, Cebu and Davao that are poverty-stricken.
The following data shows the number of prostituted women, just in Subic and Clark during the time of the former US military bases. A dramatic decrease can be noted when they pulled out in 1992. However, the VFA signing marked the start of once again, a remarkable increase in the number of sexually exploited women in the areas.
TIME OF FORMER U.S. BASES – SUBIC
FORMER CLARK AIRBASE
No data available
women (data from
U.S. BASES PULLOUT – SUBIC BAY
|Year||Number of Establishments||Number of Prostituted Women|
|1993-1998||8||143 registered women|
|No records shown for unregistered women|
VFA TIME – SUBIC AND OLONGAPO CITY
|Year||Number of Establishment||Number of Women Working|
|2,000 unregistered and part time prostitution|
VFA TIME – ANGELES CITY
|Year||Number of Establishments||Number of Women Working|
|2001-2002||163 (existing bars and clubs)|
|100 (operational)||3,455 registered|
|22 brothels||131 women|
In Cebu, trafficking is at their peak when the ships dock as the demand for sexual services created by the presence of the American troops overtake the supply of women. Children from nearby provinces are tricked and brought to the clubs where the military troops are. During the Balikatan exercises in Basilan, prostituted women from Davao are recruited to work as Guest Relations Officers (euphemism for entertainers) in clubs, in Zamboanga City or Cotabato City, both a few hours away from Basilan.
The VFA and the Balikatan gave rise to an artificial economy in areas visited. Women’s earnings depend on the presence of the foreign troops. They earn an average of P200 or $ 4 when there are soldiers. Waitresses earn P50 to P75 per night. Cashiers, meanwhile are paid monthly at P1,500 or $30. Waitresses and cashiers hardly go out with customers. Thus, the women’s earnings depend on whether they go out with customers and are “used” by them. At the end of the day, it is the bar owners, pimps and managers, and not the women, who earn from the military R & R industry.
In Korea and Okinawa are hundreds of Filipino, Korean, Thai and Russian women around the military bases. Time and again, the presence of military troops prove to create a demand side for the sale of women and children across countries.
Another issue linked to US militarism is the increase in the number of abandoned Amerasian children. In the Philippines alone, it is estimated that 52,000 Amerasian children were left behind by American servicemen from the former military bases. Statistics reveal that two-thirds (2/3) of Amerasians are raised by single mothers, and others by relatives and non-relatives.
A 1999 study published by the UP Center for Women Studies about the life of Filipino Amerasians revealed the following:
|There is a disturbing high rate of abuse against Amerasian children. This include racial, gender and class discrimination that they suffer from strangers, peers, classmates, teachers, etc. In cases such as these, black Amerasians seem to suffer more intensely from racial and class discrimination compared to their “white” counterparts. “White” female Amerasians are highly vulnerable to sexual harassment. Being “white” is often enough that reason for people to treat them as “sex objects.”|
|For many, the absence of the father, and being the child of survivors of prostitution carry the additonal burden of social stigma and psychological stress that affect their schooling and the normal integration into their communities.|
|Many Amerasian teenagers have articulated a “longing for an identity”. As a result, there are many cases where abandoned Amerasian youth attempt on ways to go to the US in order to find their fathers. In cases such as these, there have been reports of how Amerasian fall prey to unscrupulous personnel who ask for bribe in processing birth certificates, US passports and other travel documents. Some Amerasians have even allowed themselves to be illegally transported out of the country and face uncertain future in the land of their unknown fathers.|
The Amerasian organization in the Philippines fears that the return of the American troops would spell an increase in the number of Amerasians, who like them, would suffer the same abuse from society, and neglect from both the Philippine and US governments.
We remember 6-year old Crisel Valencia who died in February 2002 becaue of leukemia. Like many other children around the Clark Airbase, Crisel’s blood disorder is highly suspected as caused by toxic contamination left behind by the US military facilities. There were also reports of spontaneous abortions and stunted growth of children.
As we always assert, it is as important to reexamine the use of the term “security” as it is important to deconstruct the use of “terrorist networks” by the US government and the Asian governments now effectively under the wings of the “anti-terrorism” campaign. The “terrorist’ term permitted a kind of drag-net effect which legitimized the suppression of dissent, and globally, the consolidation of the unilateral power of the US.
The anti-terrorism campaign has claimed lives, caused displacements and continues to trample upon fundamental rights of our people, especially the women and children.
It is as important to emphasize that while we critique militarism and “anti-terrorism” revitalized by the US, we must unmask the entire campaign as economic in essence and a re-assertion of geo-political domination of the US.
The same economic interest in Afghanistan is present in Mindanao, south of the Philippines. In the same manner, the strategic location of the country which was the consideration in the construction of the military bases 54 years ago, was the same consideration in the reintroduction of the MLSA.
Further, we critique the appropriation of women’s issues for the US’ own anti-terrorist agenda. At the onset of the US attacks against Afghanistan, the US-sponsored media came out with releases on the abuses against Afghan women. This, even as the Talibans’ treatment of Afghan women were considered as crimes against humanity by the US, despite feminists protests, at the time when a delegation of Taliban mullahs flew to America in 1997, to meet the US State Department officials and negotiate with the Unocal executives in Houston.
We have to severely criticize the US policy – as a political methodology, not only in terms of costs to women’’ lives but as a practice of false might. In the same manner that the fundamental problem of underdevelopment in Mindanao does not require a masculinist response of militarization. Yet the exercise of military domination is resorted to by both Bush and Arroyo in refusing to acknowledge the failures of their economic schemes.
A strong campaign should be sustained against the use of “anti-terrorism” by governments to promote their own economic policies, while cracking down on left organizations. This unilateral war is “witch-hunting” in the widest scale ever. Regional networks such as this should serve as a counterpole to Asian governments’ concurrence with US policy. Let us make our opposition to the US policy resonate across the region!
Finally, we issue the following demands to the leaders of the U.S. and the countries that host U.S. military:2
Stop the War on Terrorism and Policies that threaten Genuine Human Security.
|We demand that the U.S. government stop coercing and promoting policies to push the War on Terrorism on other nation states resulting in the denial of true democracy, security and human rights.|
|We oppose the passage of all new policies that reinforce the War On Terrorism.|
Guarantee Self-Determination and Genuine Security.
|We demand that the U.S. government immediately cease all types of military practices and fulfill its commitment of leaving Vieques, Puerto Rico by May 2003.|
|We demand the rescinding of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the rejection of the Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA) in the Philippines.|
Ensure a Safe, Clean Environment.
|We demand revision of the unequal Status of Forces Agreements, particularly Article 4, in order to hold the U.S. government accountable for paying for and cleaning up all their former and current military bases in Okinawa, Japan, and Korea.|
|We demand passage of the Host Committee Bill of Rights (adopted in the International Grassroots Summit for Military Toxics (October 1999, Washington D.C.) that provides guidelines for the clean-up of former U.S. bases and gives countries where these bases are located full negotiating and monitoring rights in base cleanup.|
Hold the U.S. government and the nations that host the U.S. military accountable for the human costs of militarization.
|We demand that the U.S. government pay reparations to communities where there has been physical, social, emotional, and environmental damage because of the presence and operations of the U.S. military.|
|We demand that the U.S. ratify, comply with and adhere to guidelines of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and ensure that past crimes are also included within the scope of the ICC.|
|We demand that the U.S. and governments that host the U.S. military provide reparations and social services to Amerasian children.|
Halt the restructuring of the U.S. military that increases militarism in our communities.
|We demand the halting of the construction of new military bases in Okinawa and ensure the complete removal of military presence.|
|We demand that the U.S. government stop forcing the development, sale, and resale of weapons and military equipment through its unequal relationships with other nations.|
Stop the violence against women and children.
|We demand the closure of all clubs, venues, and activities that exploit women and promote military prostitution and the trafficking of women; instead, ensure opportunities for sustainable livelihoods and dignity for women.|
|We oppose the promotion of war and violence in our everyday lives such as the use of toys that glorify and celebrate war and the military, as well the use of language that normalizes violence in our everyday lives.|
1 This paper incorporates a couple of presentations at the Seoul meeting, quoting largely from the Plenary Presentation of Margo Okazawa-Rey and Gwyneth Kirk. Inputs were also given by Philippine coordinator Aida Santos, Alma Bulawan and Marissa Navidad.
2 These demands are part of the statement quoted in the beginning of the paper. The statement was Signed by the participants of the Fourth International Gathering of the East Asia – US – Puerto Rico Women’s Network Against Militarism, August 15-19, 2002, Seoul, Korea.
ASIAN PEACE ALLIANCE © COPYRIGHT
The date posted here is due to our website rebuild, it does not reflect the original date this article was posted. This article was originally posted in Yonip in 2002