Senate OKs defense pact with Australia
The military agreement with Australia provides for joint training and education

MANILA, Philippines – Voting 17-1, the Senate on Tuesday, July 24, ratified the Status of Visiting Forces Agreement (SOVFA) between the Philippines and Australia.

Long ratified by the Australian Parliament, the SOVFA has been pending in the Senate since 2008.

The agreement, which provides for enhanced bilateral defense and military cooperation between the Philippines and Australia, was anchored on the 1995 Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperative Defense Activities with Australia, according a press statement issued by the Senate.

The SOVFA prohibits the conduct of exercises or other activities in protected areas, ancestral domain areas, critical watersheds and protected forest areas, and also provides that any environmental damage caused by the sending state will be subjected to claims and compensation, it added.

“Concurrence with the ratification of the SOVFA will not only pave the way for us to improve our defense mechanisms, it will also solidify our decades old relationship with Australia, especially in the fields of trade and industry,” Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said.

Before Congress adjourned for a month-long break last June, the Senate approved on second reading the resolution concurring with President Benigno Aquino III’s ratification of the SOVFA, which called for the issuance of a Memorandum Order  directing the Department of Energy and Natural Resources to closely monitor the activities of Australian troops and their civilian component in the Philippines, ensuring that environmental laws and ordinances of the country will not be violated.

The agreement calls on Australia to cooperate with the Philippine government to prevent any abuse or misuse of the privileges granted in favor of Australia’s Visiting Forces. It further states that the “authorities of the receiving state have jurisdiction over visiting forces with respect to offences committed within the receiving state and punishable by the law of the receiving state, but not by the law of the sending state.”

This provision was included to avoid a repeat of the case of US Corporal Daniel Smith, who was accused of raping a Filipina in 2005. Smith was acquitted after the Court of Appeals reversed the decision of the lower court and ordered his immediate release from prison.

Since 2001, Australia has been conducting counter-terrorism trainings and providing mutual training assistance to the government.

Malacañang was pleased. “We thank the Senate for this historically significant action,” the Palace said.

The lone dissenter in the Senate vote, Sen Joker Arroyo, told reporters the country does not need the agreeement. He said the Aquino administration seems to want to carry out the agreement amid the Philippines’ standoff with China. –

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