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Anti-VFA rally at US Embassy Manila, September 14, 2009, demonstrator and member of GABRIELA. Maria Josefa Gabriela Carino Silang, "Gabriela," from Illocos Sur was the first Filipino woman to lead a revolt against the Spanish colonialist regime in 1763. She was eventual captured and forced to watch the execution of her fellow revolutionaries before she was finally hung. Her memory has been an inspiration of heroism in the struggle for freedom, among women especially. In April 1984 a Filipino women's advocacy group was founded. GABRIELA-General Assembly Binding Women for Reforms, Integrity, Equality, Leadership. and Action. I watched on the news the September 9 student demonstrations that turned violent as the demonstrators were directly in front of the US Embassy in Manila, protesting the VFA-visiting forces agreement. Unlike the previouses basis in Subic and Clark, the VFA gives more free reign for the US military, grey areas in what constitutes a base, and suspicious engagements with Muslim rebels in Mindinao. The VFA activities are suppose to be limited to exercises. On September 14th, I photographed two smaller follow-up demonstrations adjacent the US Embassy in the park 100 meters away, known as Plaza Furgeson. The first group was GABRIELA, the woman's group protesting the VFA. Their accompanying press release, GABRIELA's spokesperson Joms Salvador is quoted: "We do not need US troops in the Philippines. We kicked them out 18 years ago and they remain unwelcome....In the course of ten years of the VFA, the sex industry flourished in the perifery of areas wherever US troops were stationed. For the rest and recreation needs of these foreign troops women were being brought inside their camps...In the last ten years, US soldiers have commited several violation including the rape of two Filipino women. We will not stand for more Nicole and Vanessa's to be ravished by US soldiers. We want them out now." The case of Nicole and Vanessa were just a few of the many reported abuses by erring American soldiers that reached national attention. The Philippine's long history, of exploitation by outsiders of it's natural resources has made hostages to those who have turned to the sex industry, indicating the desperation and hoplessness. GABRIELA is one of the many groups fighting against government complicity in this continued exploitation, and the struggle for an economic autonomy that the Filipino people themselves can benefit from, that the dream of a true Independence be realized. They encompass the broader issues through their stand for womens rights. With the days events, a moments pause and reflection: I recall In the USA, it was four and a half decades ago where a vast number of Americans stood united against the Vietnam War and questioned the values of society. Where in that climate, perceptions of the Native American twisted popular opinion in films like "Little Big Man," history re-examined. In the Philippines that second look has yet to be made. I recall photographing as a young beginning photographer the April 24 Anti-Vietnam War Protest March of 1971 where 125,000 marched in San Francisco, while in Washington DC 500,000 marched. In San Francisco I recall the bands playing on Geary Street, and what seemed an army of photojournalists, wielding two, three or more, SLR's, TLR's, and the Hasselblad photographer with a tripod. I recall the Vietnam veterans leading that march, some in wheelchairs. We were young and proud Americans, proud to express our right to freedom of speech in a just cause, that we were truly an example of freedom. When Peace & Love were not just the silly trend that it has been reduced to. I hope to see a return of such enthusiasm one day. Paying closer attention to our foreign policy objectives, review of our prejudices, our complicity in policy, complicity in the things we buy and how we choose to live, the ideas that we preach regarding freedom and democracy, and most importantly in the US, a serious look at our own Imperialist History.
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