Reference: Ryan Leano, Secretary General, SanDiwa National Alliance of Fil-Am Youth
email: sandiwa.national@gmail.com


On May 27, 2009, Filipina/o American youth join with Filipina/os in the U.S., the Philippines, and throughout the world in globally coordinated actions calling for the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) currently in effect in the Philippines. Since going into effect on May 27, 1999, this unilateral agreement between the U.S. and the Philippines has allowed for unregulated stocking of war material, American troops full access to military and civic facilities in the Philippines, and immunity to offenses made by American military officials on Philippine soil, just to name a few. It also has allowed the U.S. to fund the Philippine military millions of dollars annually, a military responsible for over 1,000 cases of human rights violations against innocent civilians since the government of Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo took office in 2001. These human rights violations include intimidation, abduction, torture, and extrajudicial killings of innocent people whom the Philippine government and military target as enemies of the state. The victims of these atrocities were innocent people who simply addressed the problems of the Philippines such as poverty, landlessness, and broken education systems.

As a national alliance of Filipina/o American youth, SanDiwa, the youth and student arm of the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON), recognizes the harmful effects the VFA has on the people of the Philippines, both in the homeland and abroad. SanDiwa was born out of the Philippine Studies Program, an annual study abroad summer program in which Filipina/o American youth and students go to the Philippines to learn about the history, culture, and current conditions of the land of their heritage. The first batch of participants in 2003 returned to the U.S. inspired by their experience in the Philippines to establish a national organization that connected their issues as Filipina/o Americans to the issues in the Philippines, which eventually became SanDiwa. “How can our safety be guaranteed? With the increasing incidences of human rights violations, which run rampant and unchecked because of things like the VFA, Filipina/o Americans are concerned about their kababayan (fellow countrymen) in the Philippines as well as their own safety when traveling to the homeland, whether it be for visiting family or going on exposure trips,” stated Francis Leo Bronola, a member of a community based fraternity, Kapatirang Pilipino.

On May 19, 2009, a Filipina American activist named Melissa Roxas was abducted by elements known to be connected to the Philippine military. Fortunately, she was resurfaced and safe after being missing for five days. This is the first known case of an American citizen of Filipina descent being a victim of human rights violations in the Philippines. Roxas was a founding member of Habi-Arts in Los Angeles, a cultural organization that is also a part of NAFCON. She was in the Philippines volunteering as a health worker in Tarlac when she was abducted, along with her two companions Juanito Carabeo and John Edward Handoc. Carabeo fortunately was also resurfaced, however Handoc remains missing. Roxas and Carabeo are two of the very few victims who have resurfaced after being abducted by elements of the Philippine military, which is funded by U.S. tax dollars to carry out these atrocities because of policies like the VFA.

“As Fil-Am youth and students who have the privilege of going to the Philippines for study abroad programs and visiting trips, our safety while in the Philippines should not have to be compromised because of human rights violations, due to funded policies such as the VFA. Our tax dollars should have been funding our safety and security and not threaten the people of the Philippines and their Filipina/o American kababayan who innocently conduct humanitarian efforts to improve and uplift the country. It is because of trips to the Philippines that SanDiwa came into existence, to learn the rich history, culture, and current conditions of the homeland,” Anne Beryl Corotan, the national Chairperson of SanDiwa expressed, over the issue of VFA and the resurfacing of Roxas and Carabeo. “While we express joy over the resurfacing Roxas and Carabeo, the countless number of other victims of human rights violations is still of great concern and needs to be addressed. Therefore, SanDiwa calls for the immediate abrogation of the VFA, the resurfacing of John Edward Handoc and all victims of abduction, and an end to all forms of human rights violations,” Corotan ended.

SanDiwa, the youth arm of NAFCON, is a national alliance of youth, students, and community youth organizations, united to (re)educate, celebrate, and advocate for issues that affect our Filipino communities in the United States and in the Philippines. As an alliance, we seek to work cross-culturally in reclaiming our humanity and to work collaboratively with “other” minority groups to protect the rights and welfare of young Filipinos all over the United States.


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