MANILA, Philippines – Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago and Akbayan Representative Walden Bello on Monday, October 27, filed a joint resolution seeking to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Philippines and the United States.
Aside from citing the killing of Filipina transgender woman Jennifer Laude in Olongapo City, where a US Marine has been tagged as the primary suspect, the resolution also enumerated 2 other cases in the Philippines involving the US military.
The resolution cited the 2012 case involving the dumpring of hazardous wastes in Subic Bay by Glen Defense Marine Asia, a US Navy contractor, as well as the 2013 USS Guardian grounding of the Tubbataha Reefs.
Santiago, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Legislative Oversight Committee, said the VFA has not only been used to shield US soldiers from criminal prosecution but has also been invoked when environmental laws are violated. (READ: ‘VFA is a failure’ – Miriam)
Signed in 1998, the VFA allows the rotation – not basing – of American troops in the Philipines, including the entry and movement of US assets. It came years after the closure of US military bases here following the Philippine Senate’s historic rejection of the PH-US Military Bases Agreement in 1991.
Bello, who chairs the overseas workers’ committee in the House of Representatives, said the VFA was “useless” since it does not anyway guarantee the Philippines of US support in the event of an attack.
The joint resolution also slammed the US Special Forces’ establishment of a base in Zamboanga City.
Laude’s killing renewed calls from critics to abrogate the VFA, who believe that the deal is lopsided in favor of the Americans.
The Philippine government has launched a review of unclear provisions in the VFA. President Benigno Aquino III himself is opposed the abrogation of the agreement, but Santiago asserted that Congress alone can terminate the VFA without presidential approval.
Senate President Franklin Drilon and most senators are in favor or reviewing the VFA rather than ending it.
In the House of Representatives, the Makabayan bloc earlier filed a joint resolution seeking to abrogate the agreement, citing other cases including:
- The rape of Filipina Suzette Nicolas – initially called “Nicole” by the media – in 2006 in Subic, Zambales in by Lance Corporal Daniel Smith
- The shooting of farmer Buyong-Buyong Isnijal in Tuburan, Basilan in 2002 involving American soldier Reggie Lane
- The shooting of Arsid Baharon in Barangay San Roque, Zamboanga City on June 21, 2004 by an American soldier whose identity US authorities have withheld,
- US troops’ alleged involvement in direct combat operations especially in Mindanao
Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr said he is also not in favor of terminating the deal.
US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg earlier said the US is open to reviewing controversial provisions in the VFA but not while both countries are in the midst of handling the murder probe into US Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton. (Q&A: US Ambassador Philip Goldberg on VFA, Pemberton, Yolanda)
Goldberg has defended the VFA, saying that it facilitated the investigation into Laude’s killing. He also credited the VFA for allowing the US to deploy troops quickly when Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) battered the Visayas region in November 2013. – Rappler.com