Friday, December 22, 2006

Rising Tide in the Pacific

Published on Thursday, December 21, 2006 by the London Times / UK
The Last Tide Could Come at Any Time.
Then These Islands at the End of the Earth Will Simply Vanish
Blame it on global warming or a submerged volcano.
Either way, the low-lying atoll seems doomed - and it is not the only one
by Richard Lloyd Parry on the Carteret Islands

It begins with the simple rising of the tide in the lagoon, above the flashing coral, and high up the beach where the thin canoes lie. Soon water is breaching the frail sea walls and running over the coconut palms and the dusty pathways of the village. The sea laps at the houses of palm and wood; in the middle of the islands saltwater bubbles up through holes dug by the crabs and floods the fields and gardens until half the land is swallowed up.

It happens every few months. But however many times they have seen it before it is never any the less terrifying for the people of the Carteret Islands. “The kids run around crying,” says Selina Netoi, who lived through the experience last year. “People try to comfort them and they carry them and leave everything else behind. I have seen houses washed away — swish! — and everything inside them. We are helpless when this thing happens. We can’t save anything.”

Every year the tidal surges are becoming stronger and more frequent; every month, a few more inches are being eaten away from the shrinking land of the tiny islands. It happened last March, it happened again in September and it may happen again tonight under the tug of the new moon.

The people of the Carteret Islands — among the smallest, most beautiful and most remote inhabited islands in the world — are hungry and afraid. Since the sea poisoned their fruit trees, their children have lived on an unbalanced diet of fish and coconuts and their pot bellies and the yellowing tips of their black hair hint at malnutrition. Most of them are desperate to leave and plans are being drawn up to move them to higher, safer ground on the larger island of Bougainville, 120km (75 miles), across the water. But however blighted the lives of the 2,600 Carteret islanders are, this is a problem far greater than just for them. The Carterets are a portent of catastrophe to come — not only for the other low lying atolls of the South Pacific, but for low-lying coastal communities across the world, from Bangladesh to New Orleans. If environmental scientists and campaigners are correct, the rising seas are the result of global warming caused by the release of greenhouse gasses. Some time next year the islanders will become the world’s first climate-change refugees; within a few years, barring a dramatic reversal, their home will literally go down in history as the first inhabited territory in the world to be swallowed up by global warming.

“We have no cars and no factories and no aeroplanes,” says Bernard Tubin, a leader on the island of Piul. “We are the victims of this greenhouse-gas emission and we are totally innocent. America sends someone to the Moon, wars are being fought and millions are being spent on warheads and ammunition. So why is it that Russia and the US and Japan and Australia cannot do anything to help us?” Even by the standards of Papua New Guinea, the anarchic nation of mountains, jungles and islands north of Australia, the Carteret Islands are about as remote as can be. From the capital, Port Moresby, you fly to the island of Buka in the autonomous province of Bouganville. After an 11-hour journey by fishing boat, you see six crinkly indentations emerge on the horizon. They are perched on the lip of a circular reef, none at their highest point more than 170cm above sea level. These are the Carterets, the islands at the beginning of the end of the world.

They are named after a British naval captain, a contemporary of Captain Cook, who came across them in 1767. Two and a half centuries later, the most modern charts still mark them in the wrong place. Philip Carteret described them as “scarce better than large rocks”, and during the Second World War a Japanese bomb obliterated one of the smaller islets.

The silhouettes of a few wrecks jut above the circular coral atoll, most of them fishing boats from Taiwan, which plundered the giant clams that used to litter the sea bed. But nothing in the history of the Carterets has been as momentous as their continuing destruction. There have been high tides and coastal erosion for decades, but it was not until the 1980s that they were identified as a cause for long-term anxiety. The population was expanding and at first this seemed to be the cause of overcrowding. But then islanders who had been away for a few years began noticing that areas that had previously been land were under water. “When I was a small boy this shore began out there,” Mr Tubin says, pointing to a spot 150 metres out to sea. “One year ago it was five metres out from here. There were houses here, and fruit trees.”

The authorities erected a series of sea walls of heaped up giant clam shells and wire cages stuffed with coral; their rusting remnants litter the islands. A team of Australian botanists tried to plant stands of mangrove, which bind coastlines with their tough roots; but few of the trees survived.

The Government of Papua New Guinea (PNG) had bigger things to worry about in the shape of a civil war that raged on the island of Bougainville throughout the 1990s. “We have to rely on the national Government of PNG,” Mr Tubin says. “But PNG is a dysfunctional, failed state.” In the 1980s the island of Huene was cut in two by the sea and its twin, Iolasa, is quickly going the same way.

“When the tides rise this place is shoulder-deep in water,” Mr Tubin says about an expanse of drying mud that was formerly rich bush. “There are stingrays and sharks swimming around. And when the water goes down, the place is wet and stinking and there is rubbish all over the place. Then the mosquitoes breed in the water, and the children get malaria and diarrhoea.”

Once this was a jungle “garden” of banana, breadfruit, papaya, cassava, tapioca, sugarcane and the starchy tuber called taro. Now it is a slimy, salinated wilderness where only palm trees grow.

The coconuts they produce, with the lagoon’s plentiful fish, are the only food that the islanders have left. The few wells on the islands have been poisoned by saltwater and are now good only for washing. To drink, the islanders must collect rain in water tanks or rely on coconut milk. Four times a year now, rice and other supplies have to be shipped out by the hard-pressed local government of Bougainville — but the Carteret islanders are down to one meal a day. After a flood, the nurse in the small clinic on the island of Han treats 50 cases of malaria a day. Paul Tobasi, the executive manager of the Atolls District, and a Carteret islander, says: “It’s a hard, hard life. These kids don’t realise how hard it is because they have lived with it all their lives.”

The causes of the crisis are not simple, and there is no doubt that the islanders have unwittingly made their own contribution to the problem. Unlike many tropical reefs, the Carteret atoll seems little damaged by bomb fishing — but the mangroves that once formed a natural sea wall around the islands were stripped away for firewood a generation ago. Islanders speak of smoke and even fire that rises from the centre of the lagoon every few years — if these emerge from a submarine volcano,that may have contributed to the subsidence. But a growing body of research suggests that, however much the land may be sinking, waters are rising across the world, especially in the South Pacific. A report last year by John Church, of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, based in Canberra, concluded: “The analysis clearly indicates that sea level in this region is rising. The continued and increasing rate of sea-level rise and any resulting increase or intensity of extreme sea-level events will cause serious problems for some of these islands during the 21st century.”

All but the oldest of the islanders are ready to leave for resettlement on Bougainville — but even this obvious step has become bogged down in delay. During the 1990s, 20 families were relocated to Bougainville, but driven back again by the terror of the civil war. They require assurance that this experience will not be repeated. “Here we move freely, but on Bougainville you have to take your kids everywhere — and even then you get attacked,” Mr Tubin says. “We need land, it must be close to the sea, and close to a reef so that we can fish in our accustomed way.”

The ideal place would be one of the coastal plantations formerly owned by foreign companies and abandoned during the civil war. But complicated legal procedures are required to procure the land for the Autonomous Bougainville Government. Then there is the expense. It is a measure of the Government’s desperation that even modest sums are beyond its reach. “How long before a really big wave?” asks Selina Netoi. “A tidal wave that destroys everything — washes away all the houses, drowns the children. We live in fear here, but we have nowhere else to go.”

Even without such a catastrophe, the sea will not retreat. Soon, perhaps within a decade, the islands will be bisected, quartered and submerged.

Copyright © 2006 IPS-Inter Press Service


Thursday, December 21, 2006

Economic Outlook Bleak in the US Colonies

Report paints bleak picture of Guam's financial condition

by Clynt Ridgell, KUAM News
Thursday, December 21, 2006

Guam faces serious economic, fiscal and financial accountability challenges, according to a report from the United States Government Accountability Office. Joining Guam in the report is the U.S. insular areas of American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Chairman of the Legislative Committee on Finance & Taxation, Senator Eddie Baza Calvo (R), told KUAM News, "There is a common thread linking Guam and other insular areas other territories, as well as the Commonwealth, and that is that all of the U.S. flag territories are under some financial duress."

Senator Calvo says this shared pressure is not a coincidence, and may actually be tied in with the fact that we are all not full fledged members of the American political family. "There must be something to that when you have unincorporated territories that do not have full representation," he continued, "and when it comes to the economic treaties that the United States signs with other countries and some of the laws dealing with economic activity that we're not in or a part of the bargaining table." Calvo says one example of this is with restrictive laws like the Jones Act and cabotage laws that make it difficult for Guam to create other industries. In fact, the report points to problems that all insular areas face with having a narrow economic base.

Several factors have been attributed to constraining the economic potential of all four insular areas namely a lack of diversification, scarce natural resources, small domestic markets, limited infrastructure, and shortages of skilled labor. The report also discussed Guam's weakened fiscal condition stating that in CNMI and Guam the fund balance of total governmental funds declined, as government spending rose faster than revenues. Admitting that this is a disappointing revelation, Senator Calvo said, "Obviously we have been spending more than we have been taking in, and this is all that important even now."

The report also takes a look at the poverty level of the insular areas. Although Guam has the lowest percentage of individuals in poverty out of the insular areas at 23%. 23% is still almost double the rate of the Continental U.S. Senator Judi Won Pat (D) says that most of the findings of the report are not new to her, telling KUAM News, "The way I see things is it's something we've known and maybe now I think we need to be very serious if we want to make the changes if we're serious also in the sense that we are saying that we want the military to come to Guam, then we need to do something."

And finally, one of the most important findings of the report is that the governments of all four insular areas, Guam included, have had longstanding financial accountability problems. These issues include the late issuance of single audit reports, the inability to achieve clean audit opinions on their financial statements, and numerous weaknesses in internal controls over financial operations and compliance with federal grant awards.

Read the GAO report by clicking here

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Japan Leader Wants Changes to Constitution

Japan leader eyes move on constitution
By CHISAKI WATANABE, Associated Press Writer
Tue Dec 19, 12:30 PM ET

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Tuesday he wants to pass legislation next year that would allow a national referendum on changing Japan's pacifist Constitution.

Abe, in a speech marking the end of this year's parliamentary session, also said he aimed to amend the Constitution during his term in office.

He took office in September after winning a three-year term as ruling party president. The U.S.-drafted Constitution, which bars Japan from warfare overseas, has never been amended since taking effect in 1947.

"I want to revise the Constitution while I am in office, though it is a historic task," Abe said. "First, I want the legislation for a referendum to be passed in the next ordinary (parliamentary) session."

The Constitution stipulates that a referendum is required for constitutional change. Special legislation would be required for such a referendum to take place.

Abe wants to make it easier for the military to operate abroad, but he faces considerable political obstacles. Amending the Constitution requires two-thirds support in both houses of Parliament and majority backing in a national referendum.

Members of Abe's own Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner, the New Komei Party, are strongly opposed to stripping the charter of its pacifist provisions.

Abe acknowledged the challenge ahead.

"We will negotiate with both ruling and opposition parties to reach a draft (of the revision). We need discussions among the parties. I'd also like to see a national debate on the issue," he said.

Constitutional change is a major plank in Abe's platform of giving Japan a larger diplomatic and military role in the world and bolstering its defense coordination with the United States, which bases 50,000 troops here.

It is not certain, however, how successful Abe's drive would be as some say Japan may simply change its interpretation of the Constitution to allow its military a wider role, rather than changing the Constitution.

During the speech, Abe also said that a series of bills passed by Parliament will form the foundation for building a new country, leaving its "postwar regime" behind.

"I believe that the passage of the bills marked a big step forward," he said.

Parliament's upper house passed bills last week that require schools to teach patriotism and upgrade the Defense Agency to a full ministry for the first time since World War II. Both bills are key elements of Abe's push to bolster Japan's international military role, build up national pride and distance the country from its post-1945 war guilt.

Abe said the bill to upgrade the Defense Agency to a ministry was "extremely significant" and was a sign that Japan's democracy has matured.

The bills have been controversial because of a strong undercurrent of caution in Japan to any efforts to strengthen the military or revive the pre-1945 style of nationalism that led Japan into its disastrous period of imperialism and colonialism.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Pacific Century

Military Growth Anticipated in Guam, Civilian Leaders Learn
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam, Sept. 18, 2004 -- With President Bush dubbing the 21st century "the Pacific century," Guam is expected to become increasingly important to U.S. military operations, officials here told visiting civilian leaders Sept. 17.

Both Andersen Air Force Base in the north and Naval Base Guam in the south anticipate big growth within the next several years, capitalizing on Guam's prime strategic location, its pro-military population, and its status as a U.S. territory.

Air Force Col. P.K. White, commander of the 36th Air Expeditionary Wing here, told participants in the secretary of defense's Joint Civilian Orientation Conference all signs point to major growth for the U.S. military in Guam.

Strategically located more than 3,000 miles southwest of Hawaii, Andersen Air Force Base offers what White calls three major attractions: ramp space, green space and air space.

The base's 7.5 million square feet of ramp space provide "a lot of room to put a lot of airplanes to do a lot of things," he said.

In addition, White said, Andersen features extensive open space to support future growth. "There's a ton of room here to put a lot of new infrastructure," he said.

Air Force Col. Steve Wolborsky, vice commander of the 36th Air Expeditionary Wing, said the Air Force anticipates investing $1 billion to $2 billion into Andersen Air Force Base within the next five to 10 years. This, he said, reflects recognition of Andersen as "the most significant U.S. Air Force base in the Pacific region for this century."

White said another one of Andersen's primary attractions is its access to airspace -- an access he said continues to shrink in the continental United States, Europe, Korea and Japan. "You need airspace to train the way you're going to fight," he said. "And you can find it here."

Already, Guam features a wide range of military assets, including the Air Force's largest fuel supply in the United States and its largest supply of weapons in the Pacific.

Meanwhile, Naval Base Guam, with its protected deep-water harbor, is building up its infrastructure, getting more homeported ships and increasing the training opportunities it is able to offer, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Doug Lito told the group.

The base is home port to two submarines, with a third to be added in December, a submarine tender and two Coast Guard cutters. Another 15 ships are forward deployed to Guam, Lito said.

Perhaps the most compelling reason for increasing the U.S. military presence in Guam, Maj. Gen. Dennis Larson, commander of Andersen Air Force Base, told the group, is the fact that it offers a slice of America in one of the world's most strategic locations. This, he said, gives military planners and operators far more leeway in conducting operations than they typically find at overseas bases.

"It lets us deploy forces to here and employ forces from here with a lot fewer restrictions than in any other part of the world," said Wolborsky.

White invited participants in the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference to return to Guam in a few years to see the changes ahead.

"It's been said that Andersen will be the key air force base for the 21st century, and I believe it," he said. "This region of the world is very important, and it's a critical time in the future of this base."

While visiting Guam during a weeklong trip through the Pacific to observe U.S. military operations, the civilian leaders witnessed some of the current operations taking place on the island.

They traveled to Naval Base Guam to watch Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 5 demonstrate its bomb-disposal techniques.

Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Jeff Spengler, an explosive ordnance technician based here, jumped from a helicopter into Apra Harbor, swam to a simulated mine floating in the harbor, and tagged it with an explosive charge. He then swam away from the "mine," grabbed the helicopter's rescue harness, and was lifted onto the aircraft.

Once the helicopter left the immediate area, Conoly Phillips, retired CEO of Conoly Phillips Lincoln Mercury in Norfolk, Va., was selected from the civilian group to detonate the device, creating a huge explosion in the harbor.

At Naval Base Guam, the group also saw a display of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 3's equipment and an MH-60 Knight Hawk helicopter used by Helicopter Combat Support Squadron 5 to conduct search-and-rescue missions in the region.

Later, at Andersen Air Force Base, group members met the crew and climbed aboard one of six B-52H Stratofortress bombers deployed for a four-month rotation from Barksdale Air Force Base, La. White said B-52s from Barksdale and Minot Air Force Base, N.D., began regular deployments to Guam in February -- a significant step since the last permanently based B-52s left Guam in 1991.

Larson told the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference visitors the activities they observed today -- and plans for the future still on the drawing board -- will contribute to Guam's role in U.S. defense.

"Our primary job is to be ready for any crisis," he said. "If we do this right, we can continue to help provide security and maintain peace in this region."

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Chamorros Decry US Military Expansion in Guam

Natives of Guam Decry U.S. Expansion Plan
Aaron Glantz

SAN FRANCISCO, California, Dec 12 (IPS) - A Pentagon plan for a massive military build-up on the Pacific island of Guam is meeting with resistance by ethnic Chamorros who live there and the Chamorro diaspora in the United States.

According the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute, the Pentagon has already moved attack submarines and cruise missiles to Guam, where it is forming a strike force of six bombers and 48 fighters that have been deployed from bases in the continental U.S.

In addition, earlier this year, the U.S. Defence Department announced plans to move 8,000 Marines and 9,000 of their dependents from Okinawa, Japan to Guam. Last week, the Air Force announced it plans to add 2,600 service members and their families to the island's Andersen Air Force Base beginning next year.

The realignment is currently undergoing an environmental review. Pentagon officials say construction of the new bases should begin in 2010, with troop movements starting in 2011.

Activists believe the redeployment will result in a total influx of approximately 35,000 people, a number they say will overwhelm their small island, which has a population of just 168,000 people. The southernmost island in the Western Pacific Mariana chain, Guam has been a U.S. territory since the United States won the Spanish-American War in 1898.

"Guam has basically no say," said writer Michael Lujan Bevacqua, a graduate student at the University of California, San Diego. "So the U.S. has the right to bring in whatever they want and there is no framework that Guam can make demands or negotiate with the U.S. military. The Pentagon and the United States Congress are the sovereign owners and they act like that. There is no relationship that says we have to listen to your feedback or we have to listen to your demands."

Bevacqua noted that the Pentagon's decision to redeploy to Guam comes after large-scale protests against the United States military presence in South Korea and the Japanese island of Okinawa. In both countries, the U.S. military operates under rules negotiated between governments called a "Status of Forces Agreement", or SOFA. But because Guam is a U.S. territory, no SOFA is required.

Indeed, the Japanese government is so keen to have the Marines leave Okinawa -- where a number of U.S. servicemen have made headlines by raping local women -- that Tokyo is underwriting most of the estimated 10-billion-dollar cost of the redeployment.

"Japan and South Korea make noises, the people there antagonise the U.S. military, so the U.S. responds," Bevacqua told IPS. "They say you don't want us there, we'll go to a place where people have no say over what we do, and that place is Guam."

Guam elects one non-voting delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives. During U.S. presidential elections, citizens in Guam vote in a straw poll, but their choice for president is not counted toward the final outcome. Residents of Guam serve in the U.S.. military and can be conscripted when there is a draft.

Not everyone on Guam agrees with the activists. The territory's non-voting Congresswoman Madeline Bardallo is a big supporter of a stepped-up U.S. military presence on the island.

"When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor (in World War II), they invaded Guam at the same time," she told IPS. "We were occupied by the Japanese for three and a half years. Now you've got South Korea-North Korea, Taiwan-China. There's a lot of unrest. A lot of us remember the Japanese occupation and don't want something like that to happen again."

People from Guam are very patriotic, she added, pointing out that Guam has the highest rate of enlistment in the National Guard and Army reserves of any U.S. state or territory.

But the activists see the calculation differently. Though they grew up hearing horror stories of forced labour and mass murder under the Japanese emperor during World War II, they do not believe a large U.S. presence is in their interest.

"If there's a confrontation between the United States and North Korea, the Koreans won't look to bomb the U.S. mainland," Sabina Perez of the International Peoples Coalition against Military Pollution told IPS. "They'll look for a place that's closer and easier to hit, and that will be Guam."

It was in this political environment that a coalition of mostly young ethnic Chamorros traveled to the New York in October to address a special summit of the United Nations Committee on Decolonisation. They told the panel, which was originally designed to eradicate colonialism in 10 years but is now in its second decade, to come out in favour of self-determination for the people of Guam.

But they said that while they were greeted with a positive response from countries like Venezuela, the United States, which holds a veto on the panel, refused to listen.

"From where we were sitting, the U.S. representative had to turn his head in order to look at us," Victoria Leon Guerrero of the Guahan Indigenous Collective told the community forum in Berkeley. "He never turned, never looked at us. That's how the United States government relates to the people of Guam."

Monday, December 11, 2006

Guam a "toxic dumpsite"

Szyfres: Guam residents live in ‘toxic dumpsite’
By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
Variety News Staff

CONTAMINATION in Guam’s environment may have caused other diseases affecting local residents who live in “a toxic dumpsite,” according to University of Guam professor and researcher Dr. Luis Szyfres.

Szyfres said the contamination started with the storage of toxic chemicals by the U.S. government. “There are no longer dumpsites of toxic chemicals on Guam, but the island remains a toxic dumpsite,” he said.

Due to evaporation, rain, infiltration and wind dispersion of the toxic chemicals in the dumpsites for more than 50 years, the contamination has spread all over Guam, Szyfres said.

Diseases prevalent on Guam besides neurodegenerative conditions include diabetes, various types of cancer and disorders affecting the kidneys, skeletal system, heart and arteries, glands and hormones and respiratory system.

Other diseases associated with exposure to toxic chemicals are deafness, blindness, liver dysfunction, anemia, sudden infant death syndrome, and progressive immune suppression.

Szyfres also pointed to a Government of Guam report which showed that in comparison to the continental U.S., many diseases on island have epidemic proportions and death rates here are higher than in the mainland.

Szyfres also noted that the prevalence of certain types of cancer is way higher in Guam than in the mainland. These include nasopharyngeal cancer, which is 1,999 percent higher in Guam; cervical cancer, 65 percent higher; uterine cancer, 55 percent higher; depression/suicides, 67 percent; liver cancer, 41 percent; diabetes, 150 percent; Ischemic heart disease, 15 percent; and kidney failure, 12 percent.
In coming up with the theory linking Guam diseases to toxic chemicals, Szyfres cited studies conducted by local and federal agencies.

He said his report is aimed at providing the population of Guam with concrete official information about the health hazards to which they are exposed, and “to avoid any type of political or government interference with the truth, by presenting their own official information.”

Szyfres, a professor at the UOG College of Natural and Applied Sciences, acknowledged that health problems related to toxic chemicals “is obviously a very sensitive socio-political issue.”

He cited studies by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which presented concrete evidence that the soil and groundwater of Guam contains toxic chemicals, and that concentrations of the toxic chemicals are above their own acceptable levels.

The toxic chemicals found on Guam include aluminum, barium, antimony, arsenic, cadmium, copper, chromium, lead, manganese, unspecified metals, nickel, pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, selenium, silver, thallium, tetrachloro dibenzeno dioxins, total petroleum hydrocarbons, vanadium, volatile organic compounds, trichloroethylene, benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene, xylenes, and semi-volatile organic compounds, and zinc.

“Unknown to the residents of Guam, the food they eat, the water they drink, and the air they breathe are contaminated with toxic chemicals,” Szyfres said. “The toxic chemicals enter the person’s bloodstream and may affect any organ or system in the body.”

“The fact that the only way that toxic heavy metals can get to the brain is through the blood, and that they can only get to the blood through the food, water, or air contaminated with heavy metals, proves that the toxic chemicals are not only in the environment of Guam, but in Guamanians as well,” he added.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Filipino Labor in Guam

Into the breach again: US looks to Filipinos
By Cher S Jimenez

MANILA - When the United States moves to downsize its military facilities in Okinawa, Japan, and begin construction on new military bases designed to house 8,000 marines and their families on the Pacific island of Guam, Filipino construction workers will likely do most of the heavy lifting.

In September, Philippine labor officials accepted an invitation from Guam - a US territory - to discuss hiring 15,000 Filipino construction>workers to work on the new military facilities, including barracks, administration buildings, schools, training sites, runways and entertainment establishments. On-land construction activities on Guam are set to begin early next year and the estimated US$10 billion
project is scheduled for completion in 2014.

The US Congress' Overseas Basing Commission had earlier estimated that the cost of relocation and building the new base in Guam, including>facilities for a new command post and housing for the marines' family members, at about $2.9 billion. For undisclosed reasons, the US military now says the total cost will be closer to $10 billion, of which Japan has agreed to shoulder 59% of the bill. Cheap Filipino labor, it is believed, will help bring down those spiraling costs.

If the deal is done, it will mark the latest big hire of Filipino workers by the US military and its affiliated business interests. The US has employed more than 7,000 Filipino workers - nearly half of them undocumented - in its four main military camps in Iraq, according to Philippine labor officials. Neither the Philippine nor US governments has publicly owned up to how thousands of Filipino workers have slipped into Iraq and found work on US military facilities.

US federal policy prohibits the employment of non-Americans inside US military facilities, but the Bush administration's heavy use of private contractors has blurred the lines between public and private functions. After a Filipino truck driver killed in Iraq caused a domestic uproar against the Philippines' participation in the United States' war effort, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in July 2004 banned any new deployments of Filipino workers to Iraq.

Philippine-based non-governmental organizations tracking Arroyo's support to the United States' global counter-terrorism campaign contend that both Washington and Manila have quietly decided to ignore the official ban to maintain the steady supply of cheap, English-speaking Filipino workers in Iraq. Washington clearly seems to
favor Filipinos over other English-speaking nationalities for its most crucial and sensitive military-related construction projects.

In March 2002, Washington and Manila secretly processed the papers of 250 Filipino construction workers to help build new or overhaul old detention facilities now in use at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where the US controversially holds hundreds of suspects as part of its "global war on terror" campaign, according to Philippine officials. For their efforts, Filipino workers received a $1,000 monthly salary - far below
what it would have cost the US military to employ US citizens.

Contractual gratitude

Local labor recruiters have been told by government officials that the Guam assignment is a US reward for the Arroyo administration's strong support for its "war on terror". There is also an element of trust: US soldiers frequently train with their Philippine counterparts and US advisers are currently training and providing logistical support to Arroyo's campaign against Muslim separatists in the southern Philippines.

Philippine officials estimate that if and when Filipino workers are deployed to work in Guam, they will earn wages similar to those paid for the Guantanamo operation. From the United States' perspective, hiring cheap Filipinos makes good economic sense at a time when the US military budget has spiraled out of control with the mounting expense of operations in Iraq and to a lesser degree Afghanistan.

It also appears to be part of a quiet outsourcing process: the US Department of Defense's 2005 base realignment and closures recommendations aimed to pare "unnecessary management personnel" at Guam's existing facilities, including "military, personnel and contractor personnel", to the tune of 174 lost jobs over the period spanning 2006-11.

Cheaper Filipinos are expected to fill some of the lost contractor positions, Philippine labor sources say. And they will be charged with building facilities alongside some of the most advanced and important assets the US military maintains outside the continental US. This includes Andersen Air Force Base, which can handle aircraft ranging from unmanned aerial vehicles to long-range strategic bombers, and
Apra Harbor, which services everything from nuclear submarines to aircraft carriers. Andersen's special hangar facilities are designed specifically to protect the special radar-evading skin of B-2 bombers.

Sources from the Philippine recruitment industry say that, apart from their low cost, Filipino construction workers are "highly favored" by the US because of their English-language skills. According to industry sources, Middle Eastern companies that have recently hired large numbers of Filipino construction workers there are often subsidiaries of or somehow affiliated with big US reconstruction firms, including Halliburton, Bechtel and Flour Daniel.

"Americans favor Filipino workers because we can understand them and they speak English," said Loreto Soriano, president and chairman of the board of LBSeBusiness, a Manila-based recruitment firm. "Construction manuals and plans are written in English, so we can follow easily, and that's what they like."

Their overall skill sets, including their ability to work with modern construction technology, however, are very much in question. The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) recently said that from 2001 to 2005 it was only able to meet 56% of global orders for 103,167 construction workers because of their low skills,
including their inability to operate modern construction technology. Much of that demand has come from the Middle East, where booming oil prices have led to a flurry of new construction and infrastructure projects.

Soriano said the Philippines generally could not meet the surging demand for highly qualified construction workers, including welders, flame cutters, plumbers, pipe fitters and carpenters. For the past few months, job advertisements for construction workers and engineers rose by almost 29%; there were new requests for 4,000 overseas placements in September, according to official statistics.

As of 2005, the Professional Regulation Commission registered 312,478 construction-sector professionals, where nearly one-third was listed as qualified civil engineers. However, the POEA, the government agency that oversees labor deployment abroad, had registered only 737 professionals over the period spanning 2002-04. Now, local employers are complaining about the growing number of construction workers who
leave their jobs without notice after they have been placed overseas.

Some in Manila fear that if the government paves the way for 15,000 workers to take jobs in Guam, the already labor-strapped local Philippine construction could come to a total grinding halt. However, that could also happen to the planned new military facilities in Guam if Filipino workers lack the skills to implement US building designs effectively and efficiently.

Cher S Jimenez is a Manila-based journalist with the BusinessMirror
newspaper. She recently received a grant from the Ateneo de Manila
University to conduct investigative journalism on illegal workers in
the United Arab Emirates.

(Copyright 2006 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved.)

Friday, December 08, 2006

Remembering Jesse

Remembering Jesse: local hero honored by community
by Mindy Aguon, KUAM News
Friday, December 08, 2006

U.S. Army Sergeant Jesse Castro is being remembered by friends and family. An inspiration to the men and women in our country's armed forces, Castro's legacy will never be forgotten. In three weeks Jesse Castro, affectionately known as "Chu" by those who knew him best would have turned 24. Instead, he paid the ultimate sacrifice while serving his country during his second tour in Iraq.

The lives of Castro and four other members of the Hawaii-based 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division were tragically cut short when an improvised explosive device detonated while they were conducting mountain patrol near Kirkuk. A large crowd of loved ones attended a mass this morning to honor young Jesse's life. "You gave me a wonderful son, for twenty-three years, he was my blessing," said Dorothea "Doreen" Jesus, Jesse's mother.

She cradled her grandson, attempting to find solace in the legacy her son left behind in his own offspring. "He is going to live his life just like Daddy," she said proudly, "he is going to be respectful to everyone, and play sports, just like Daddy."

On Thursday night Jesse's wife Theresa received a phone call that would forever change her life. Joe Moore, Jesse's father-in-law, described his family's strength in this most unbearable of times by saying honestly, "Life is too short, freedom is not free, so don't ever take it for granted. The other thing is to keep everybody in your prayers. Faith is probably the strongest thing that anybody could ever give another person. We just thought it would never happen to us, but it did. Now you're being tested, now you're being challenged, and I'm sure that everyone will get through this."

Castro had the ability to touch the hearts of all he encountered and had a genuine zest for life. He strived for success in all he did from playing baseball to grappling with mixed martial arts groups, to serving his country and being awarded two Purple Hearts for injuries he suffered while in battle. "He left behind a legacy," continued Moore, "he left his son, his wife, his mom and his sister. And life will go on, it just takes time to heal from then on we can go on with life."

So if variety is the spice of life, then Castro undoubtedly enriched the lives of all he met. This proud son of Guam will forever be remembered in the hearts and minds of all who knew him as a hero - an inspiration to all. Nightly rosaries are being said at the Castro residence in Chalan Pago at 7pm. In the meantime the Castro and Moore families are preparing to have Sergeant Jesse Castro's body brought back so he can be laid to rest here at home.

Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo issued the following statement after learning of Castro's death, "I am deeply saddened by the loss of Jesse Castro and I extend my heartfelt sympathy to his family. We should all keep Jesse, his wife Theresa, his son Jesse, Jr., and the rest of his family in our prayers during this time of loss and sorrow. I pray every day for the safe return of our men and women who are deployed in harm's way for our freedom. God bless Jesse Castro and his family."

And following suit, Governor Felix Camacho extended his own condolences, writing, "Today is a sad day for the people of Guam. First Lady Joann and I extend our deepest condolences to the Castro Family on the loss of their son, husband and father. Jesse died in defense of our great nation and we all must remember that he paid the ultimate sacrifice to protect the freedoms that we all enjoy today."

Sunday, December 03, 2006

US Marine Convicted in the Philippines

December 3, 2006

PHILIPPINE-US Women's Group, GABRIELA Network Demands Philippines Assert Jurisdiction- Put US Marine Smith in Philippine Jail

At 9pm this evening (already December 4, 1pm in the Philippines), GABRIELA Network (GABNet) stood vigil waiting for the verdict of the Nicole Subic Bay Rape case. Lance Corporal Daniel Smith, one of the four US Marines accused of the rape of Nicole, was found guilty by the Makati Regional Trial Court. Lance Corporal Smith's three co-defendants were acquitted. For Lance Corporal Smith who was found guilty, women's groups led by GABRIELA Philippines and the GABRIELA Women's Party call for the Philippine government to now exercise their sovereignty and take Lance Corporal Smith into custody to serve his time in a Philippine jail.

"We are not happy with the full verdict," Lalee Vicedo, GABNet Campaigns Director said, "We fully believe that the four acted together and so no one should have been acquitted of their actions, but given the verdict, the guilty should be treated as such." GABNet will continue to call for the remanding of Lance Corporal Smith into Philippine custody as well as an overall call to junk the Visiting Forces Agreement. This case is a landmark as it is the first time an American soldier has been found guilty of a crime since the US bases were shut down in 1992. As with the fight for the removal of the US bases from the Philippines more than a decade ago, Philippine women were instrumental in demanding justice for Nicole. It was the women's militant stance, their unwillingness to let Nicole continue to suffer from blatant victim blaming, and their commitment that has been able to expose US Military's exploitation and oppression of the Filipino people. This has occurred on a global level with vigils being held all over the world in Canada, Europe, and the United States. Last week, GABNet held vigil right at the gates of US Marine bases in San Diego, California. This was held amongst catcalls and insults hurled by US soldiers, indicative of the US's view of the Philippines.

From the beginning of the case, the US government has shown absolute contempt of the criminal justice system of the Philippines, not even bothering to go through the motions of as the accused rapists were never put under the custody of Philippine authorities. In fact, the Philippine government under Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has colluded with the United States by complying with the unfair provisions of the Visiting Forces Agreement such as having the judicial proceedings completed within a one year period and the custody of the four accused US Marines being under the supervision of US rather than Philippine authorities. Now that a verdict has been handed down and Lance Corporal Smith judged guilty, he should be treated as any other criminal and serve his time in a Philippine prison. "This is not just a case about one woman," GABNet Chair Annalisa Enrile states, "This case is about the Visiting Forces Agreement and how it has reintroduced the US Military back to Philippine soil and all the issues that go along with that such as rampant violence against women. The judge in this case has ordered that Smith be handed over to a Philippine jail, but we'll see. The Arroyo government has gone out of her way to remain a puppet of the United States than she has done in upholding the rights and dignity of the Filipino people, especially the women."

Now that the decision of custody is in the hands of the Arroyo government, we urge the Arroyo government to take a stand for Nicole by taking her rapist into custody for life in a Philippine jail. The United States should not be allowed to invoke the VFA to provide further reasons to keep Corporal Smith out of Philippine custody. GABNet urges all women's groups, all people's organizations, and freedom loving people to stand with us to demand real justice for Nicole and real sovereignty for the Filipino people.


U.S. Marine convicted in Philippines

By TERESA CEROJANO, Associated Press Writer Mon Dec 4, 6:55 AM ET

MANILA, Philippines - A U.S. Marine was convicted Monday of raping a Filipino woman and sentenced to 40 years in prison, ending an emotional trial that has strained U.S.-Philippine ties and tested a joint military pact.

Three other Marines and their Filipino driver were acquitted of complicity.

Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith, 21, from St. Louis, was the first American soldier convicted of wrongdoing in the Philippines since the country shut down U.S. bases here the early 1990s. His lawyer, Ricardo Diaz, said he would appeal.

Staff Sgt. Chad Carpentier, Lance Cpl. Keith Silkwood and Lance Cpl. Dominic Duplantis, who had been accused of cheering Smith on, were freed.

Smith, who was in the country for joint training, did not deny having sex with the 23-year-old woman but testified that it was consensual.

The court said the woman, known publicly by her pseudonym "Nicole," was so intoxicated that she could not have consented to sex, pointing to testimony that Smith carried her to a van where the incident occurred on Nov. 1, 2005.

"He was the one who was on top of the complainant, she resisted his kisses, pushed him and fought him back until she lost consciousness because of alcoholic drinks she had taken," said the decision by Judge Benjamin Pozon of the Makati Regional Trial Court. A court employee read the decision live on national television.

Pozon said in English that the severe penalty was aimed "to protect women against the unbridled bestiality of persons who cannot control their libidinous proclivity."

Some cheers and applause broke out in the courtroom, and Nicole began weeping as supporters embraced her.

"We're very happy, we laud Judge Pozon for showing courage and judicial independence," the woman's lawyer, Evalyn Ursua, said.

About 100 protesters had gathered outside the courthouse, demanding the government scrap the 1998 Visiting Forces Agreement that allows U.S troops to train with Philippine troops after the Philippine Senate ordered U.S. bases shut down in the early 1990s.

Under the pact, the Marines were placed under U.S. custody during the court proceedings.

The U.S. military presence in the Philippines has been credited with helping Filipino troops crack down on Muslim militants in the country's south but activists have rallied against the treaty, saying it favored Washington.