The case of alleged rape of a Filipino woman by six American military personnel, if not handled justly and fairly, will become another national tragedy for the Philippines.
This tragedy may open new wounds to the detriment of Philippine-American relations.
The rape story begins in “balikatan” or “war games.” That beginning came in roughly and now, in midstream, the story is a bit ugly, with the future of the rape victim dashed for a reason that has something to do with violating the basic right of others.
The rape story has national and international repercussions. It is symbolic of so many things including the conduct of American military personnel in other countries.
The case is clearly a test case for the Visiting Forces Agreement signed in 1998 by the government of the Philippines and the government of the United States of America.
Early on, with the rejection by the Philippine Senate in 1991 of the military bases agreement that lasted for one hundred years, the naval and air bases of the United States in the Philippines were also rejected.
Many Filipinos thought that with the Americans leaving the country for good, the country would be an open territory for gobbling up by other ambitious and imperialist nation-states.
Richard Gordon was the first advocate of this reasoning. He painted fear. When the Americans left, he became one of the first government leaders to prove that the fear and paranoia that went with the prospect of seeing the American military leave were baseless.
In 1998, at the time that the Philippines was celebrating its 100 years of independence from colonial rule, then President Joseph Estrada signed the Visiting Forces Agreement that paved the way for joint exercises between the US and Philippine military personnel.
Francisco Nemenzo, in a 1998 lecture at the National Defense College of the Philippines, cited three reasons why the VFA was flawed: (a) it is an affront to the Philippine Constitution; (b) it grants territorial rights to Americans; and (c) it can involve (Filipinos) in unnecessary international conflicts.
The rape case involves in particular to the way the question of extraterritoriality is factored in addressing the case.
While the question of proof of guilt is for the courts to decide, the implications of the case to Filipino in the Philippines and Filipino immigrants in the United States are far-reaching.
Basic to this is the question of Philippine sovereignty.
This one is a big, huge, and delicate term to define given the rich and tangled history of Philippine-American relations.
Philippine foreign policy comes into question here; American foreign policy particularly with respect to the VFA will come into careful and critical scrutiny.
Already, the tales of woe and will power have become tangled.
Some groups are putting some import of the fact that the incoming US Ambassador to the Philippines will be, for the first time, a woman.
The alleged rape victim is a woman. The expectation of some groups is sisterhood and political correctness.
How the American government will face squarely the facts of the case of its military personnel will come into focus as the whole world watches for the swift resolution of the problem.
Because the United States and the Philippines share a common history, this problem requiring reasonable resolution becomes more crucial at this time.
With the US still in the forefront of assisting Iraq in evolving a democratic way of life at the cost of more than 2000 lives, the US cannot afford another nuisance.
The only way to get out of the problem is for both countries to be honest, fair, and just. The conduct of a fair trial is paramount here.
The only way for them to patch the crack of their relationship is to come to a bargaining table insofar as this rape case is concerned.
The only way for them is to permit justice to run its course.
Justice is what makes friendship more real because the friends take each other as equals and not as patron and client.
The treating of each other as equals—this is the lesson that Americans and Filipinos alike can learn from this test case of the VFA.
Pub, INQ, V1N21, Nov 2005