From the Daily Tribune (Oct 25): No VFA amendment, just a review
Renegotiation of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) is unlikely to take place under the present circumstances where the United States government does not appear to be amenable to the idea.
“I think in essence (it can be amended but) I’m not sure the US will agree,” Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Secretary Albert del Rosario yesterday said before the Senate finance subcommittee hearing the proposed budget of the said agency.
Del Rosario told the subcommittee chaired by Sen. Loren Legarda that even prior to the case involving the killing of a transgender Jeffrey Laude allegedly committed by US Marine Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton, the government has undertaken efforts to review the VFA since last year.
“It’s been in our agenda. We are reviewing the VFA in its entirety, to see how we can fine tune it,” he said to reporters in an ambush interview.
“We are reviewing it at DFA level with appointed officials of the US government. We are in discussion with US officials. I think the level of consultation now is not negotiations. It is a review of both parties,” he told the Senate panel.
Yet Del Rosario admitted that there is great interest in VFA because of the apparent attention stirred by the Laude case.
A number of lawmakers have been calling for either the abrogation or amendments of the provisions of the military agreement, especially on the issue of jurisdiction of the Philippines in taking custody of a US serviceman committing a crime in the country.
The matter on the issue of jurisdiction on custody of an accused American soldier is among the stick points in the discussion, the DFA chief said.
Although the the DFA chief expressed pessisim over the likelihood of renegotiated VFA, the government is still hoping to iron out some issues that are getting in the way on the implementation of the agreement.
“We are looking at the smooth implementation of the mechanism. I think this time we are not for a renegotiation because if there is a material change on that, we have to re-submit the whole thing back to the Senate,” he said.
“There are so many things that are getting in the way but we are endeavoring to do that as quickly as possible,” he added.
In the said hearing, Del Rosario admitted that Pemberton is not actually under the Philippine custody even if he’s currently detained at the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) headquarters.
“Technically speaking we did not actually ask (custody of Pemberton) because the US had custody already of Pemberton. We also did not ask for custody because at this particular time he has not been charged. We will formally ask and we said to them (US government) already that we will be asking,” he said in the hearing.
“What I’d like to explain at this time is that there is a difference between jurisdiction and custody. Jurisdiction is proceeding with the legal process.
The jurisdiction without question lies with the Philippines and custody, its, everywhere you go there is a difference in terms of how men in uniform are treated worldwide.
“Even in the Philippines, with the Philippine military, they are treated differently
So custody, in accordance with the DFA, legal custody remains with United States. Although in the case of Pemberton, we have requested for custody in terms of the extraordinary situation,” he said.
“At this time, he is being held at Camp Aguinaldo. the US has legal custody but he is in a Philippine property within a military base and security is being provided by both the Philippines and the US government.
“You can be sure that he will not leave the country and you can be assured that the VFA, we intend to show the public it works and that justice will be served,” he said.
Legarda asked how can similar incidents be prevented from happening again.
“Crimes are commited everywhere so that aspect of the problem there cannot be addressed but what we are trying to do is that we have a mechanism in place. we are trying to make that work and we are trying to demonstrate that it does work,” he said.
“To make VFA work, the VFA states that they are entitled to custody but we continue to request that they consider otherwise because of the extraordinary circumstances,” Del Rosario said.
Meanwhile, a stalwart of the Nationalist Peoples Coalition (NPC) is supportive of moves to abrogate the controversial VFA as the treaty is largely lopsided in favor of the United States especially with regard to the detention of US personnel accused of crime.
Valenzuela City Rep. Sherwin “Win” Gatchalian feared that US interests will again prevail at the cost of a Filipino’s life and the country’s dignity as charges were filed against US Marine Pfc. Joseph Scott Permberton for the murder of a 26-year-old transgender woman named Jeffrey Laude, who was found dead in a motel in Olongapo City.
Although Pemberton is currently detained in Camp Aguinaldo, the principal suspect in Laude’s murder remains under US jurisdiction and custody during the pendency of the judicial proceedings as per Section 6, Article V of the VFA.
“This is an opportunity for the government to prove its loyalty to the Filipino people by abolishing the VFA and by making sure that the accused will be placed under the jurisdiction of Philippine laws,”
said Gatchalian, a majority member of the House committee on foreign relations.
Gatchalian described the VFA as a “one sided love affair” between the Philippines and the US since it is only the Philippine government which ratified the treaty and the US, while doing nothing, stands to gain most out of the agreement.
“It is like an American national promising to marry his Filipina girlfriend on condition that the Filipina helps him pay his debt in the US. And after everything has been settled, the American will tell his Filipina bride to forget about the wedding and they just live as common-law spouses. This is clearly a one-sided love affair since the Filipina is williing do everything to show her love while her American boyfriend takes everything for granted,” Gatchalian explained.
Gatchalian recalled that nine years ago, Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith was convicted of rape by the Makati Regional Trial Court (RTC) and was briefly detained at the Makati City Jail but was transferred to the US Embassy in Manila after the Romulo-Kennedy Agreements.
The Romulo-Kennedy Agreements were later declared by the Supreme Court not in accordance with Sec. 10 of the VFA, which states that Philippine authorities will take charge of the convict’s confinement.
The Court of Appeals reversed the RTC decision in 2009, acquitting Smith who immediately left the country.
“The people cried for justice when local leaders allowed the US to violate VFA provisions to serve their own interests. This time the government must serve the interests of its own people by abrogating the lopsided VFA,” Gatchalian said.