From the Manila Standard Today (Mar 7): ‘No more VFA slips in US access talks’
MALACAÑANG said on Thursday that it would not allow the Philippines to be shortchanged in the framework access agreement that it is negotiating with the United States.
Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Sonny Coloma said the country has already learned its lesson from the Visiting Forces Agreement, which has been described by critics as lopsided.
“It is only proper that both sides - especially us - address past challenges. We cannot allow that we will be shortchanged,” Coloma said.
Two well-placed sources from the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of National Defense earlier said that Washington wants exclusive jurisdiction over its troops while using Philippine facilities under the agreement.
Coloma did not dispute the report.
“We will continue to abide by what is for our national interest in carrying out this negotiation.”
The framework access agreement would allow more American troops, aircraft and ships to temporarily pass through the Philippines.
In an earlier interview, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said the jurisdiction issue is one of the points being negotiated by both sides in Washington.
Gazmin said ideally, the access accord could be completed in time for the visit of US President Barack Obama to Manila in late April.
“There is no agreement on that (jurisdiction) yet. They are still talking. It would be better to wait for the return of our negotiating panel,” he said.
“But our guidance to our team is this: there will be no repetition of the mistake in the Visiting Forces Agreement. The provisions should always be in accordance with the Constitution, and not violative. And we should also be sensitive to the concerns of our people,” Gazmin added.
Under Article V Section 6 of the VFA, “the custody of the US personnel over whom the Philippines is to exercise jurisdiction shall immediately reside with the US military authorities from the commission of the offense until completion of all judicial proceedings.”
In the same section, the VFA provides that “in extraordinary cases, the Philippine government shall present its position to the United States government regarding custody, which the United States government shall take into full account.
The term extraordinary, however, was not defined in the VFA to include heinous crimes such as rape.
In November 2005, the US embassy in Manila secured the custody of Lance Corporal Daniel Smith who was accused of raping a Filipina in Subic.
While Smith’s victim eventually recanted, the case exposed certain flaws of the bilateral pact, specifically on custody and jurisdiction.
Gazmin said the government is not imposing a deadline on the negotiations for the military access pact.
“I hope it will be signed by April but we are not giving them a timeline. What is important is for both sides to tackle all issues and that everyone will leave the negotiating table smiling,” the Defense chief said.
Meanwhile, outgoing Foreign Affairs Department spokesman Raul Hernandez denied reports that Washington has rejected Manila’s proposal to have jurisdiction over American troops when they use Philippine military facilities under the new framework agreement.
Hernandez even tagged the report as “inaccurate”.
“Report as you stated is inaccurate,” he said in a text message.
He explained that there are actually “convergence of views” during the negotiations but it does not mean that the American government has rejected Manila’s proposal.
“Negotiations are intended to deal with respective positions in an effort to arrive at a convergence of views. It was agreed by all concerned that inputs of new ideas and viewpoints would be extremely helpful,” he added.
An earlier news report said that the negotiations hit a snag when former Assistant secretary for American Affairs Carlos King Sorreta insisted that the Philippines should have jurisdiction over American troops during their stay here as part of the IRP.
The advocacy campaign was organized and spearheaded by the municipal district chairman and officers of Yakan City Committee of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front with the purpose of informing the grass-roots on the salient provisions of the FAB’s four annexes. The municipal district chairman emphasized during his presentation of the program’s overview the importance of knowing the progress in the GPH-MILF Peace Process.
Professor Ahmad Al-Amin, was tasked to explain the features of the four annexes where he was able to concisely clarify the transition process, mechanism and modalities under the Transitional Arrangements; the Intergovernmental Relations, Governance and the delineation of powers under the power sharing and stressed the non-diminution of powers already enjoyed by local government units.
Professor Al-Amin also told the mixed participants composed of Yakan, Sama and Tao Sugs that under the Wealth-Sharing and Revenue Generation Annex the so-called block grant is different from the Internal Revenue Allocation (IRA) already provided by the national government to local government units.
Professor Al-amin, clarified that the term decommissioning as provided for under the annex on Normalization does not mean surrendering MILF firearms but putting them beyond through a decommissioning body.
In his closing remarks, the head of the Farmers’ Sector of the Yakan City Committee said that every Bangsamoro shall enjoy the benefits of a strong and wider autonomous Bangsamoro Region. A learned Muslim who was among the organizers said that, “Under Bangsamoro, no one shall be left out”.